Any lovers of Russian literature round here?

Discussion in 'General Fiction' started by Sancho, May 13, 2009.

  1. Myshkin

    Myshkin Registered User

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    Well, you can always try the Constance Garnett translations. She's been criticized for suppressing the author's style (making Tolstoy and Dostoevsky read like the same author), but many people find her translations the most accessible. Or for Dostoevsky try the Henry and Olga Carlisle translations.
     
  2. Po6oT

    Po6oT Registered User

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    Now that I think about it. "The Devils", the Doestoevsky novel I could not finish several years ago was another Pevear Volkhonsky translation. At the time I thought it was just badly written.

    I sort of feel reassured in my judgement, that David Foster Wallace apparently found the P&V a little starchy. That is probably the best way of putting it. Their translation seems a little dry and lifeless. I don't know, maybe Tolstoy is dry and lifeless.

    I realise that I have come across very harshly towards P&V. I think they have their place, as an academic exercise in word-for-word translation. But, I'm definitely in the camp that favours meaning-for-meaning and seeing a little more of the translator's personality.

    e.g. One of my favourite books, of all time, period, is Arthur Waley's translation of the Chinese epic, Monkey. If you don't know, it probably isn't very word-for-word accurate at all. But it is a hell of a good read. ( I really want to read his Tale of Genji, if you go to amazon, down the comments someone has posted a comparison of his translation compared to the equivalent, P&V modern translation, needless to say, one is full atmosphere and elegance, the other reads like... cardboard.

    Bah, I'll just put it here...

    "[...]
    Waley's version:
    Genji felt very disconsolate. It had begun to rain; a cold wind blew across the hill, carrying with it the sound of a waterfall--audible till then as a gentle intermittent plashing, but now a mighty roar; and with it, somnolently rising and falling, mingled the monotonous chanting of the scriptures. Even the most unimpressionable nature would have been plunged into melancholy by such surroundings. How much the more so Prince Genji, as he lay sleepless on his bed, continually planning and counter-planning.

    Seidensticker's version:
    Genji was not feeling well. A shower passed on a chilly mountain wind, and the sound of the waterfall was higher. Intermittently came a rather sleepy voice, solemn and somehow ominous, reading a sacred text. The most insensitive of men would have been aroused by the scene. Genji was unable to sleep.

    Tyler's version:
    Genji felt quite unwell, and besides, it was now raining a little, a cold mountain wind had set in to blow, and the pool beneath the waterfall had risen until the roar was louder than before. The eerie swelling and dying of somnolent voices chanting the scriptures could hardly fail in such a setting to move the most casual visitor. No wonder Genji, who had so much to ponder, could not sleep. "

    There is no doubt Waley embellished the text, but it was clearly in the interest of conveying a sense of the exquisite poetry of Murasaki's prose. His elevated diction lends just that touch of "class" we would expect to find in an author writing for an aristocratic audience for whom style was everything. Moreover, the sumptuous musicality of his phrasing continually underscores the melancholy atmosphere even as it seems to echo the sound of the waterfall and the chanting. Seidensticker's version has the virtue of concision, but his choice of words is often questionable: "reading," for example, suggests that Buddhist monks read the sutras in private meditation rather than chanted them as a group prayer. His "sacred texts," on the other hand, implies that Genji wasn't very familiar with Buddhism, which could hardly be further from the truth. It was as central to his life and worldview as Catholicism was to the Italian princes of the Middle Ages, as Waley's "scriptures" implies. The phrase "aroused by the scene" is even more ill-chosen, for it suggests that Genji found visits to mountain temples erotically stimulating, when in fact they tended to have the opposite effect, for they reminded him of the vanity of his secular pursuits, which were, by and large, erotic.

    Tyler's version follows Waley's interpretation at this point and thus avoids these particular problems, but he has others that are even worse. His "a cold mountain wind had set in to blow," for example, is dreadfully clumsy and somewhat confusing, as is his "the pool beneath the waterfall had risen until the roar was louder than before". The latter illogically suggests that it was the increased height of the pool below the waterfall that made the roar louder rather than the increase in the volume of water flowing over the falls due to the rain that had passed. A good many phrases in the other passages I sampled from the Tyler volume had similar kinds of problems, which makes me wonder if Tyler's editors ever bothered to read the work they insist is so "stunning." If any version deserves that praise it is Waley's, which may be difficult to find, but it is well worth the effort."

    from Stephen E Bradbury's review of Royall Tyler's translation of The Tale of Genji, Penguin Classics. Apparently Waley loses some cultural meaning, that would certainly have required a footnote anyway.

    I have similar feelings to the P&V translations.

    Basically you are not going to get away from the fact that what you are reading is a translation, they should all come with the heading, "based on the work of", because no way in hell will you actually get an 100% authentic reading. the word for word translation, has the appeal, that it sounds-nice-in-the-review. It is hard to argue, when someone is claming that it is "direct" "no-nonsense" "accurate" translation. It is a problem if the "nonsense" is actually the stuff that makes it bearable to read.

    I think this is why there are good and bad translators. They do some "rendering". Otherwise you may as well run it through Google Translate. Apparently this is how P&V work. V does very literal translation, that comes out in very cryptic fashion (as you imagine google would), and then P minimally edits that into an English sentence. And this pretty much explains why it reads so cryptically. It might not be a problem if Russians also find Tolstoy cryptic.


    -----------

    This could all be a case of, what I call, "classical music syndrome". The first time you hear a performance of a piece of music. You keep this as a benchmark as how it should be and compare all future performances to it.

    And I'm sure that there are raging debates on the merits of different approaches to translation.

    By all means make your own decisions.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2009
  3. Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer Author of novels

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    I really enjoyed reading the works of Nikolai Gogol many years ago...
     
  4. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

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    Russian novels

    Yeah, I love the 19th Century stuff: War & Peace / Anna Karenina / Fathers & Sons / The Brothers Karamazov / Crime & Punishment ... all were wonderful. The Russians did a masterful job of opening the full vistas of their land and their emotions. I even consider Doctor Zhivago to be a 19th Century novel, even though it was written midway through the 20th.
     
  5. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

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    Avatar theft?

    My wife just heard something on the radio that was news to me: There is a claim out there that the Avatar world and even some names came unacknowledged from a Russian sci-fi book. When the stakes are so high, as with a $400mm production, the idea of simple theft seems outlandish.

    Any info on this?
     
  6. ElinIsabel

    ElinIsabel Registered User

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    I'm still working on War and Peace (I look at is as my weekly drama...sit down for an hour on Sunday night and immerse for an hour), and it is one of the most real books I've ever read. Pierre is my favorite character so far. And Tolstoy has a sly little sense of humor.

    My sister is a HUGE fan of the Russians and so she is the one that has pushed them on me; I'm saving Dostoevsky for the summer when I have a lot of time off but looking forward to it.
     
  7. Stephen Palmer

    Stephen Palmer Author of novels

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    Some of it seems to have been extracted from certain Roger Dean album covers... allegedly...
     
  8. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

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    Re: Theft of Avatar material?

    Ah, well if that's all it is, it's hard to take it too seriously. If I viewed a painting and then based a story around it, I doubt I'd consider myself a plagiarist.
     
  9. zachariah

    zachariah Speaks fluent Bawehrf

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  10. Window Bar

    Window Bar We Read for Light

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    Russian Lit?

    Now that we've established that Pocahontas and Captain John Smith were Russian, I respectfully withdraw my Avatar post. It's time to hand this thread back to Tolstoy.
     
  11. savs165

    savs165 Registered User

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    Hey Guys, I dont know why I didnt notice this thread until now. I love Russian lit with a passion. Besides Fantasy and Sci-fi, its pretty much all I read. In fact, I'd argue The Brothers Karamazov is one of the greatest literary achievements of all time, and its ceartinly one of my favorite book of all time. I was blown away by it.

    Anyway, I was wondering if any of you guys can reccomend and good modern Russian authors. Ive mainly read "the greats", or most books at least 50 years old. Does any one know any good Russian authors of say the past 15 years or so? The most recent one I read was Victor Pelevin, and he was quite good.
     
  12. Lamarof

    Lamarof New Member

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    Sergei Lukaynenko
     
  13. Lamarof

    Lamarof New Member

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    There is also(of course) Isaac Asimov
     
  14. PogiRunner

    PogiRunner Registered User

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    I always wanted to read War and Peace and just finished it.

    I appreciated glimpses into the aristocratic life in early 19th century Russia. I also enjoyed the points of view of the Russian military regarding Napoleon's invasion.

    I considered this work to have two major branches. One, an emotion filled drama comprised of several intriguing characters, and two, a fictional war story based on actual past occurrences. Tolstoy does an excellent job intertwining the both of these.

    Also present throughout the novel are philosophical ideas to ponder. The second epilogue is very thought-provoking.
     
  15. Whiskeyjack

    Whiskeyjack sapper-in-chief

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    Pasternak and Solzhenitsyn

    Nice thread. Just finished rereading Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago, after a first read in the 1970s. I've seen the movie about 30 times or so (it's my favorite) and always considered the movie to be better. Upon the reread, I think I'd call them a draw now (the movie has better pacing and atmosphere, while the book excels at detailing/characterization and includes many events left out of the movie). I'm reading August 1914 by Solzhenitsyn right now and enjoy his descriptiveness. I'd like to start in on some of the 19th Century poets, but don't know where to begin. Any recommendations? Any suggestions for reading Russian poetry in English translation, given the loss of linguistic rhythm and meter that seems to always occur when translating poetry from one language to another?
     
  16. chokipokilo

    chokipokilo Unreasonable reasoner

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    I guess I should revive this thread to figure out which translators to go with.

    For someone who's read no Russian literature before, who would you go with. Who's your favorite, and are they your favorite because you read a more accessible translation prior and already understood, so this was just something new.

    I see two sides of the fence with Pevear and Volokhonsky, so I can't decide whether to go with them or Constance Garnett or other. Basically I care about getting the meaning behind the words and plot more than necessarily the "feel" of the books. The last thing I want is to get bogged down and distracted by the language so that I miss the story.

    If it matters, I plan to start with "Crime and Punishment"
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2010
  17. Hijinks

    Hijinks Registered User

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    I also would like to know what translators are good. Just started War and Peace, and I intend to read Crime and Punishment and the The Brothers Karamazov this winter. Anyone have any suggestions? So far I have been downloading the ebooks off of Project Gutenberg but I don't mind paying for a superior edition of these books.
     
  18. oceanworld

    oceanworld Registered User

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    I'll try

    :) I haven't read any Russian Literature but I'm game. I'll have to check some out.:D
     
  19. spiralcity

    spiralcity Registered User

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    Crime And Punisment is one of my all-time favorite classics.
     
  20. Chekhov

    Chekhov Let me be your gateway

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    I love Russian literature, as you can see by my username (it's partly an homage to Chekhov the writer and Chekov the Star Trek character, which I thought would be funny). My favourite of his plays is The Seagull.

    I love Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment is actually my favourite novel of all time) and I also have Notes from the Underground and The Brothers Karamazov. By Tolstoy I have War and Peace, and want to read Anna Karenina when I have the time. I also want to read The Master and the Margarita by Bulgakov.

    I really love Russian culture and am struggling to learn the language - it's difficult! Currently I would say I speak it at about one on a level of one to five.