Anna Starobinets

Look at Him, translated from the Russian by Katherine E. Young

Starobinets Cover-1

Journalist, scriptwriter, and novelist Anna Starobinets—often called “Russia’s Stephen King”—is best known for her work in horror and her writing for children. In this groundbreaking memoir, Starobinets chronicles the devastating loss of her unborn son to a fatal birth defect. After her son’s death, Starobinets suffers from nightmares and panic attacks; the memoir describes her struggle to find sympathy, community, and psychological support for herself and her family. A finalist for the 2018 National Bestseller Prize, Look at Him ignited a firestorm in Russia, prompting both high praise and severe condemnation for the author’s willingness to discuss long-taboo issues of women’s agency over their own bodies, the aftereffects of abortion and miscarriage on marriage and family life, and the callousness and ignorance displayed by many in Russia in situations like hers. Beautiful, darkly humorous, and deeply moving, Look at Him explores moral, ethical—and quintessentially human—issues that resonate for families in the world beyond Russia, as well. 

Praise for Anna Starobinets and Look at Him:

[A] most important statement on a topic that no one has ever spoken aloud here [in Russia]—necessary, traumatic, but also healing reading for any woman, and also for any man living with a woman and contemplating having children with her.

Galina Yusefovich

[W]hat makes the book so compelling and human is that Starobinets puts her fiction-writing background to good use, pacing her book to develop a story arc and suspense. I could only read a little bit at a time because a personal story about late-term abortion is so intensely emotional. Even so, I had a hard time putting the book down at night.

Lisa C. Hayden, Lizok’s Bookshelf

About this translation:

I read the manuscript Young had sent me through the night, unable to put it down, a memoir of a young woman in Moscow who discovers in the 16th week of her pregnancy that the baby she is carrying has a fatal defect. The book chronicles not only the author’s personal anguish as she contemplates abortion but the inflexibility of the Russian medical system and Russian society in general.

Joanna Chen, Los Angeles Review of Books

This book is searingly accurate. In the first, main section, Starobinets rigorously documents her own changing emotions – shock, hysteria, fear, irrationality, guilt, panic attacks, grief, grief, grief. The second, shorter half of the book consists of interviews with medical staff (all German – no Russian clinicians would respond to her questions) and with mothers who suffered stillbirths or late-term medical abortions… The translation is excellent; Young follows Starobinets’ transitions between medical jargon, lyrical outpouring, and casual slang faultlessly.

Muireann Maguire, The Pregnancy Test

What’s your goal when you start a new translation project?

I want to make something beautiful. I’m a poet myself, and a lot of my translation work is getting Russian-language poetry into English. There are many different schools of thought about what translation should be, but my goal is pretty simple: I want to make the work sound as if it had been written in English. In terms of larger prose projects, I choose books that I love myself, and authors I admire… I seem to gravitate towards controversial projects—as if by translating them I could write a wrong or negate an injustice. In the case of Look at Him, I’m hoping that both sides in the abortion debate will find a little bit of common ground in this beautiful and heartbreaking memoir. That’s a pretty quixotic notion of the power of translation—but it makes me very proud of what I do.

Katherine E. Young, TBR: Look at Him by Anna Starobinets. Translated from the Russian by Katherine E. Young


Look at Him by Anna Starobinets (Katherine E. Young, trans.) is now available from Three String Books and Slavica!



Cover image: The Human Touch by Ghislaine Howard, oil on board

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