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My Russian Book

by Vitaliy Katsenelson
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Let me tell you a story about the painting . My books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, Romanian, and Russian. Usually, the publisher (in my case John…

My Russian Book

Let me tell you a story about the painting . My books have been translated into Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, Romanian, and Russian. Usually, the publisher (in my case John Wiley & Sons – I love them to death!) that published the book in the original language takes care of selling foreign rights. The author is not involved in this process. In fact, I only discovered that my books had been published in foreign languages when my wife called me at work to inform me that a box of funny-looking books with my name on them had just arrived at our house.

For a year or two I kept getting boxes of books that had been translated into various Asian languages. I am not certain, but I may be as popular in South Korea as Psy. Anyway, as much as I enjoy my Asian fame, I really wanted my book to be published in Russian. There were a few reasons (none of them monetary – royalties from foreign sales are a joke), but the most important one was that I wanted my father to read it. He immigrated to the US when he was 58, and despite his significant efforts (he was still going to college in Denver to study English when he was 75) his control of English was limited. I put my soul into every word of my books, and I wanted to share this one with one of the most important people in my life, a person who always believed in me (I still have no idea why).

I emailed my original manuscript to the largest publisher of foreign business books in Russia and asked them to publish it. They agreed but asked if I’d mind “editing” the book. They would translate it, but I’d make sure the translation was accurate. They’d publish it even if I said no, but they wanted to take advantage of my Russian background. I agreed.

A few months later I received a Word doc of the Russian version of my manuscript. I started reading it and went into shock. I understood every word, but I couldn’t connect their meanings to make comprehensible sentences. It wasn’t the translation – it was fine – it was me. My comprehension of business Russian was close to zero.

I left Russia when I was eighteen, I even went to college there and never had a reason to speak or read business Russian. I have no interest in investing in Russia – governance there is horrible, and the rule of law is scant. I speak English to most of my friends. Even with my Russian friends, when the topic switches to business we switch to English. All my business education was in English.
A few years ago, after the Russian version of the book came out, I was asked to speak to a Russian group about investing, and it emerged that I spoke Russian with a broken American accent. I think about investing and business in English and then translate into Russian.

Back to “editing” the book. I didn’t know what to do – I had given my word that I would edit it. So I asked my father, who has a Ph.D. and taught electrical engineering at Murmansk Marine Academy for almost thirty years. He knows little about investing, but he is very smart.

My father and I took the translated manuscript on our trip to South Africa in 2009 and discussed it for two weeks. Long flights did not seem that long anymore. He would read it and question everything; and we had long conversations about investing, sideways markets, and my exploitation of Shalom Aleichem’s characters (you have to read the book to get that reference – sorry!) He said reading my book changed his mind about what I do for a living. He had thought investing was a legalized form of gambling with someone else’s money. While reading my book he tried to relate investing to an exact science, and we had long debates how investing is at the intersection between science, psychology, and art.

After the editing work was done, I asked him if he would make a painting specifically for the book. (I had borrowed another of his paintings for the cover of my first book). He did. I know I just told you a story that could have been shortened to the sentence “My father made this painting for the Russian version of my first book,” but then you’d have been deprived of a father-son story. Here is the cover of the Russian version of Active Value Investing.

1 comment

J. Sadreameli August 13, 2021 - 1:23 pm

A moving story. I’ve always enjoyed reading your columns and your book and of course your dad’s paintings. I know he’s proud of you and rightfully so.


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