Jump to content, Jump to navigation.

Amber Paulen

Reading Russian in English

29 October 2009


The Russians! What literary monstrosities! I had a Finnish roommate who did not like Russians because of the destruction they once waged on her country, but she had a soft spot for Tolstoy. She praised Anna Karenina laps around the room, now I understand why. But I began in Petersburg with Raskolnikov to Brothers Karamazov to Stavrogin to Prince Myshkin. Dostoevsky could feed me for eons. I suppose that began in Rome, with Constance Garnett.

Lately I have been experiencing a Russian uprising. I don’t know why, but only that I crave it like some people can crave ice cream. Now I’ve got War and Peace on my mind and a good thing, for it’s probably the only book that can quell it. In fact, I’ve got War and Peace sitting right here besides me, a solid weapon like Simon says. The only problem (besides an uncertain situation for long reading) is that I bought this book because it’s pretty. I’m in lust with the black Penguin Classics: is that a good reason to buy a book?

The Russians have made me picky about translators. War and Peace published by Penguin Classics is translated by Anthony Briggs. Now anyone who reads the Russians with any amount of fervor knows that Richard Pevear and his wife Larissa Volokhonsky pretty much have the whole top translation repertoire. Having recently reread The Idiot I thought: why not give another translator a try? You know, it gets repetitive sometimes, like you’re not reading another writer but another work by these translators. Along with War and Peace I treated myself to Resurrection also translated by Anthony Briggs.

First impression: his Introduction was like reading a school paper. Richard Pevear never fails to enlighten in his opening pages. Second impression: Where is the French? Usually there’s some French with or without an English footnote. Anthony Briggs adds instead, “So she said in French.” Which completely breaks up the text. I like the French bits. The Russian aristocracy used to use a lot of French. In Anna Karenina (translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky) Tolstoy’s use of French is apparent as a valuable part to the text.

Which brings me back to War and Peace with its two percent in French, even the opening paragraphs. And for a novel of over one thousand pages, this is no bite-size chunk. There are other reasons too, such as Tolstoy’s repititions well explained in this article, that convinced me hands down there is a difference. Now I must trade this for this. Alas! War and Peace must wait.



Submit a Comment


·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·