After losing his battle with cancer at the age of 75, Ignat Avsey is remembered for his exceptional translation abilities in the Russian language. Not only was he responsible for rejuvenating two of Dostoevsky’s most popular works, The Idiot and The Karamazov Brothers, but also two of his lesser-known pieces, The Village of Stepanchikovo and Humiliated and Insulted. His talent for discovering hidden gems to interpret didn’t stop with Russian literature and his most recent work, a translation of an early thriller by Vienna writer Alexander Lernet-Holenia titled I Was Jack Mortimer (1933), was published and well-received.
Ignat was born in Latvia to parents of Russian descent and moved to Britain with his family after the Second World War. For most of his professional life, Ignat taught the Russian language. He was bilingual and had a thorough understanding of the German language. He taught Russian language, technical Russian, and translation at Holborn College of Law, Languages, and Commerce. Later, when the school became the Polytechnic of Central London, and eventually, the University of Westminster, he taught literature. He was an insightful and entertaining teacher.
I first met Ignat in 1982 when he offered me his first translation, The Village of Stepanchikovo, as a publisher. With his intense obsessions, limitlessly ambitious attitude, erratic mood swings, and imposing language, he embodied the characters of Dostoevsky’s black-comic novel. I learned the skill of handling his unquenchable flow of language whenever it got out of hand.
Ignat firmly believed that translators played a vital role as creative figures and taste leaders. He paid the price for his convictions during his unsuccessful lawsuit against the University of Westminster and eventually settled out of court. He believed that translation, including decisions on what to interpret, was ‘original research.’ His translation of Dostoevsky’s works made significant contributions by revealing the full extent of his humor, and showing how the most overlooked pieces were indeed significant.
Ignat is survived by his wife Anastasia, his sister Ina, and brother Leon.