Tatiana Kudriavtseva, 93; translated literature for Russians

Ms. Kudriavtseva translated “Gone With the Wind.”
Bill O’Leary/Wash. Post
Ms. Kudriavtseva translated “Gone With the Wind.”

WASHINGTON — Tatiana Kudriavtseva, a preeminent Russian translator of English-language literature who exposed Soviet-era bibliophiles to contemporary American masters such as William Styron and John Updike (minus the sex scenes) and who waged a successful 18-year battle with the Communist Party’s cultural gatekeepers to publish Margaret Mitchell’s ‘‘Gone With the Wind’’ in Russian, died Sept. 29 in Moscow. She was 93.

The cause was a heart ailment, said her daughter, Nina Kudriavtseva-Loory.

Ms. Kudriavtseva translated more than 80 American volumes, from high-minded literature to paperback potboilers. Updike praised her ‘‘high intelligence and aesthetic passion.’’


‘‘When such a pursuit was not only technically difficult but politically dangerous,’’ he said in 2005, ‘‘she was the main bridge between American writing and the Russian language.’’

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Western books, especially those that were not technical manuals or derivative of the Kremlin political line, were hard to find in the Soviet Union for much of the Cold War. As an editor at Foreign Literature, a monthly magazine that serialized and reprinted American fiction, Ms. Kudriavtseva exerted great influence over what Russians learned of modern authors writing from the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Those authors Ms. Kudriavtseva translated included Updike, Styron, Jack London, Norman Mailer, John Cheever, Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates, Mario Puzo, and Arthur Hailey.

Hailey’s 1968 disaster melodrama ‘‘Airport,’’ she said, was well received because ‘‘it showed examples of the American people at work, their attitude toward solving problems, or not being able to solve them.’’

She declared Updike the ‘‘most popular writer in Russia’’ and said that his trilogy about Harry ‘‘Rabbit” Armstrong had universal appeal because of his physical appetites. Updike, she said, could be ‘‘writing about the Russian man in the street.’’


But while drink and sloth were acceptable vices to limn in literature, the Communist Party’s Central Committee prohibited scenes of carnal pursuits.

‘‘We immediately get letters complaining, ‘Why do you use such filthy language?’ ‘‘ she said. ‘‘It is because we are still a peasant country. Most of our intellectuals are first-generation intellectuals. They come mostly from peasant backgrounds.’’

She managed to fine-tune an objectionable line in Styron’s 1979 novel “Sophie’s Choice’’ when the title character notices stained sheets in a hotel bed. Working with a censor, Ms. Kudriavtseva made the linen ‘‘not clean.’’

Styron said that Ms. Kudriavtseva handled ‘‘the naughty aspects of my work’’ with deftness. He asked her what would have happened if the explicit scene from ‘‘Sophie’s Choice’’ had been published as written.

‘‘I will be executed,’’ she quipped.


It was a joke. But the political purging of many relatives left her with a grimly realistic sense of the possible. She was constantly weighting literary merit against Soviet taboos.

Foreign Literature declined to print excepts from Cheever’s ‘‘Falconer’’ (1977) because ‘‘it involved too much homosexuality, which is illegal here,’’ she said. And Styron’s ‘‘The Confessions of Nat Turner,’’ his 1967 Pulitzer-winner focused on a slave, was not printed because it ‘‘sought to show that any type of rebellion is doomed.’’

She said ‘‘Sophie’s Choice,’’ about a woman who made a desperate choice during the Holocaust, was a logical selection because it condemned fascism.

Ms. Kudriavtseva began her lobbying for ‘‘Gone With the Wind’’ in the 1960s. Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1936 novel — set in the South before, during, and after the Civil War — was one of the best-selling books of all time. It was forbidden for decades, ostensibly because of its historically dubious depiction of warm relations between masters and slaves.

Finally, a party official changed his mind after Ms. Kudriavtseva broke down crying in his office. ‘‘Gone With the Wind,’’ which she translated with another person, was printed in 1982 and had a resonance with Russians who lived through World War II.

‘‘We were survivors of the war, like Scarlett, and this novel was ringing a lot of bells for us.’’

The difficulty was translating idioms. Near the end, Scarlett O’Hara’s exasperated husband Rhett Butler walks out on her. She asks what will become of her. He responds, ‘‘My dear, I don’t give a damn.’’

The closest Ms. Kudriavtseva could get was a loose translation: ‘‘I spit on this.’’