Sally Laird 1956 - 2010
19 Jul 2010

Former Index on Censorship editor Sally Laird died recently after a long battle with cancer. Here, Robert Chandler appreciates an extraordinary translator and journalist

On 15 July I received this message from Mark Lefanu, the husband of Sally Laird: “This is to convey the sad news that Sally died early this morning after a long and gallant battle against cancer. The last days, in hospital, were peaceful and even beautiful, surrounded as she was by the love and care of doctors and nurses, along with the support of beloved daughter and sweet friends.”

Since 1993 Sally and her family had been living in Denmark. I went there to say goodbye to her just two weeks ago. Sally knew she was dying, and she approached death as she approached life — with courage and humour. Towards the end of May, when I was arranging a date for my visit, she wrote, “We have various guests coming off and on through June, but with little gaps in between — and after that — total emptiness from July onwards when I am supposed to be dead but any brave soul is very wecome to plant a flag in my diary.” I replied that, in that case, I would book my train tickets for early July.

Sally was unusually gifted in many ways, probably in more ways than I know. Whatever she set her mind to — a large portfolio of drawings of a family of bears produced at the age of thirteen, her work as chief editor of Index on Censorship in her late twenties and early thirties, the many reviews on Russia-related books that she wrote for Prospect, the TLS, the Guardian and the Observer — she carried out conscientiously and with imagination. Her translations of Petrushevaksaya and Sorokin are note perfect. And I know no book that presents a more nuanced picture of Soviet literary life in the post-Stalin years than Sally’s Voices of Russian Literature: Interviews with Ten Contemporary Writers (OUP, 1999).

The death of a friend always makes one regret lost opportunities. I regret that we never realized our project of collaborating on translating a selection of Ivan Bunin’s short stories — though it is some consolation that I did, at least, have the opportunity to tell her of my regret. I regret that I did not see Sally more often. I do, however, remember all our meetings clearly, and with joy.

Read Sally Laird’s Index on Censorship article “Hope For Dissenters” from 1987 here

4 responses to “Sally Laird 1956 – 2010”

  1. […] Sally Ann (May 2, 1956 – July 15, 2010) Former editor of Index On Censorship, and translator Index On Censorship tribute Lal, Purushottama (August 28, 1929 – November 3, 2010) Landmark, Kjell (1930 – October […]

  2. richard coombs says:

    I knew Sally when I was a student at the European Film College in Ebeltoft – she and Mark (who lectured there) were a perfect couple and generous with time and friendship and I send my respect to the family.

  3. Melissa Smith says:

    Sally Laird has been much on my mind of late as I return to my own work as a “Petrushologist” (the writer’s term). I never got the opportunity to meet Sally, but she has been a colossus in areas that I myself have only dabbled. I am greatly saddened by this news, and hope her spirit will live on and on in the world of Slavic Studies and translation.

  4. Sally’s death is a great personal loss to me. All her numerous friends had a special place in her heart and she was good at showing it to you. At the mention of her name people smiled happily and were eager to help you. She had been involved in a number of important cross-cultural projects as well as being a brilliant critic and translator. I met Sally in 1992 as a TLS reviewer of the very first issue of Glas. She had never heard of Glas, let alone of me, but she was independent-minded and brave enough to appreciate it objectively and write a good review. It opened doors for Glas and I will be forever grateful to Sally for her continued moral support. Later she stayed with me in my Moscow flat several times and I helped her with various organizational matters when she prepared her book of interviews with Russian writers. She also contributed a few translations to Glas. It was great fun to work with her. I always told her that with her optimism and an inimitable sense of humor she’d live to be 100, and yet she died this early. But she will live on in many hearts. – Natasha Perova, editor of the GLAS New Russian Writing in English translation