Crossing language barriers with love

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A RUSSIAN author living in Spalding for the past couple of years has taken the brave step of writing her latest novel in English.

Masha Spivak (48) claims she was simply “showing off” her ability with the language when she wrote A World Elsewhere, and says: “It’s a heady feeling altogether mastering words into images, and I love the freedom that only the English language can give.”

WORLD [copy] 're jean'20/12/11'Photo (MIKE DAVISON):

WORLD [copy] 're jean'20/12/11'Photo (MIKE DAVISON):

Masha, who lives with David Wheeler in between her regular trips back to Moscow, says David acted as her consultant and editor “and generally the source of constant encouragement for me”.

Masha has written two books in Russian, the first one loosely autobiographical and based on what she calls “the turbulent events of my life at the time of my separation from my husband”.

According to the writer, magic is now “really big” in Russia, and so Masha’s first novel also explores this mystical aspect of life in her home country. The book follows the lives of a number of key characters who all have strong opinions about the supernatural and their stories are picked up in Masha’s second novel.

Masha says she found the experience of writing in English “exhilarating” and is now attempting to write a play in English.

She explains: “I can’t say how much it excited me. I often think in English even when I am not in England, and have done so nearly all my life. I read lots of books and watch lots of movies in English, so my writing couldn’t be called translating from Russian into English. Just the opposite, as I now find it very difficult translating some parts of it into Russian.

“But of course I wouldn’t have been able to finish this book without the help from David, so I take this opportunity to say thank you to him.”

It is her ability with the English language that Masha believes has made her integration into life in Spalding easier.

She adds: “I think the key to successful integration is learning the language. I am lucky, but I find encounters with English people very unsettling and sometimes upsetting. I can read and write English very well but I cannot always understand what people say to me. So imagine how hard it is for someone who knows much less English.”

Asked whether she thinks economic migrants want to integrate, Masha, who is mother to a 24-year-old son living in Moscow where her elderly parents live, says she believes the key to that is having children.

“If a couple have children and they go to an English school, the integration will happen,” she says. “It just takes time. On our estate there are lots of little five and six-year-olds who are bilingual.

“I wouldn’t dream of speaking for the whole eastern European community, but I think English people should understand and be proud of the fact that England has a reputation for being tolerant and welcoming to foreigners. For centuries, people from Europe have been coming to England as a safe haven from dictators and oppression. England is seen as a place of freedom and fairness, but it is almost as if English people don’t know their own history. I am sure that most eastern Europeans don’t come here to cheat the benefit system – they come for freedom and to live in a tolerant country which respects the rule of the law.”

In the book Masha is the narrator, switching from the story – which she says is about “passionate love” – to little verses she admits are made up. The author’s voice is strong, sometimes addressing the reader with questions about the progress of the love story, and regularly dropping in literary allusions and riddles.

The book can be ordered online from Amazon (from £5.10), Waterstones and the W H Smith website.

It is also available as an e-book on Amazon, where it’s also possible to buy the first two chapters separately as a taster.

nA World Elsewhere, published by 2011 ISBN: 978-1-908481-75-7