Ms. Kudriavtseva (pronounced Kood-RIAV-seva) was often cited as one of the most prolific and prominent English-language translators in the Soviet Union. She translated more than 80 American volumes ranging from high-minded literature to paperback potboiler. Updike once praised her “high intelligence and aesthetic passion.”
“At a time when such a pursuit was not only technically difficult but politically dangerous,” he said in 2005, “she was the main bridge between American writing and the Russian language.”
Western books, especially those that were not technical manuals or derivative of the Kremlin political line, were hard to find in the Soviet Union for much of the Cold War. As an editor at Foreign Literature — a monthly magazine that serialized and reprinted American fiction — Ms. Kudriavtseva exerted great influence over what Russians learned of modern authors writing from the other side of the Iron Curtain.
Those Ms. Kudriavtseva translated included Updike, Styron, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, Norman Mailer, John Cheever, Gore Vidal, Joyce Carol Oates, Mario Puzo and Arthur Hailey.
Hailey’s 1968 disaster melodrama “Airport,” she once said, was well-received in Russia because “it showed examples of the American people at work, their attitude toward solving problems, or not being able to solve them.”
She declared Updike the “most popular writer in Russia” and said that his trilogy about the Pennsylvania salesman and faded high-school basketball star Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom was a character of universal appeal because of his physical appetites. Updike, she said, could be “writing about the Russian man in the street.”
But while drink and sloth were acceptable vices to limn in literature, she said, the Communist Party’s central committee prohibited scenes of carnal pursuits.
“As soon as we publish something unusually explicit, we immediately get letters complaining, ‘Why do you use such filthy language?’ ” she told the Associated Press in 1982. “It is because we are still a peasant country. Most of our intellectuals are first-generation intellectuals. They come mostly from peasant backgrounds.”
At Foreign Literature, she said she managed to fine-tune an objectionable line in Styron’s 1979 novel“Sophie’s Choice” when the title character notices stained sheets in a hotel bed.
Working with a censor, Ms. Kudriavtseva made the linen “not clean.”
Styron once told The Washington Post that Ms. Kudriavtseva handled “the naughty aspects of my work” with deftness and delicacy. He once asked her what would have happened if the explicit scene from “Sophie’s Choice” had been published as written.