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October 4th, 2009, 06:34 PM #16
OK, I might try and give it another shot. I found their English to be "bald and awkward" (Edmund Wilson's word's to describe Nabokov's translation of Pushkin). It might be technically closer to Tolstoy though. I'm not sure if I will last the full ~1000 pages of War and Peace but it could be interesting.
October 4th, 2009, 07:13 PM #17
The art of translation
Interesting comments, even Richard Pevear chips in. It give me some insight to why I felt the way I did about their translation.
Let's put it this way - I'm glad it wasn't their translation I read in the first, because I would have missed out on some of my favourite books.
What they have done to Denisov looks completely incomprehensible.
“If I were a ghrobber, I’d ask for meghrcy, but I’m on tghrial because I bghrought the ghrobbers to light.”
and I quote Dmitry Buzadzhi
"As readers, we will encounter most foreign-language literary masterpieces in translation, which creates an enormous responsibility for the translator. Possibly the most important task a literary translator faces is that of enabling a foreign audience to hear the unique voice of the original author as if the author had written in the translated language. If the English-speaking audience were unfortunate enough to know Russian writers through Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translations alone, the voices of Gogol (”How – what? An arm, Osip Nikiforovich!”), Dostoyevsky (”Yes, good-looking. Even very”), Bulgakov (”You’ve, what, been to the doctor?”) and Tolstoy would sound like a raucous choir of people with speech problems – a sound which is far from being “transparent”."
Why, then, has this pair received so many positive reviews? One explanation is that most reviewers of their books have not actually compared the originals with Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translations. Another is that Russia is still an unfamiliar country for the average American reader; maybe they did, after all, have peasants in the 19th century who casually said “Well, I declare” (see Pevear and Volokhonsky’s “Brothers Karamazov”). It is also undeniable that people fall for new and reportedly innovative things. When new translations are unanimously proclaimed “absolutely faithful”, “true to the verbal inventiveness of Dostoyevsky” and simply “a permanent standard” (excerpts from blurbs), when they are produced in an unusual and vaguely romantic way, when they claim to break away from the dull past and give the modern (presumably more intelligent and sophisticated) reader the real thing, and, finally, when they are endorsed by a definitive expert on translation like Oprah Winfrey, they are bound to become bestsellers."
Lost in Translation
It seems to me that Pevear Volkonsky are riding on the back of established translations that have caused English readers to embrace these foreign novels as masterpieces. That absolutely would not have happened if their crude translations had preceded them.
Richard Pevear simply has no ability to handle the English language.
Last edited by Po6oT; October 5th, 2009 at 05:15 AM.
October 4th, 2009, 10:40 PM #18
I don't know how I missed this thread, because I became interested in some of these books about four months ago. I ended up buying several of them (always the Pevear/Volonsky translations, based on what I read on the internet).
I read Crime and Punishment in June, and I was blown away. I thought it was one of the best books I've ever read.
I look forward to reading The Brothers Karamazov and War & Peace soon.
October 5th, 2009, 05:09 AM #19
How did you manage to endure their clunky phrasing, Evil Agent?
Oh well, they will last until the next Emperor's New Clothes translation gets endorsed by Oprah's book club...
October 5th, 2009, 02:09 PM #20
When I was looking online to see what translation I should buy, I quickly learned that many people seem to consider the Pevear/Volonsky translations to be the current best. I haven't heard your particular criticism before.
October 5th, 2009, 06:50 PM #21
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.
October 6th, 2009, 10:52 AM #22
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...
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.
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.
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 by Po6oT; October 6th, 2009 at 11:32 AM.
November 27th, 2009, 10:57 AM #23
I really enjoyed reading the works of Nikolai Gogol many years ago...
December 9th, 2009, 01:34 AM #24
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.
January 28th, 2010, 03:36 PM #25
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?
April 28th, 2010, 09:32 AM #26
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.
April 29th, 2010, 10:58 AM #27
April 29th, 2010, 12:58 PM #28
April 29th, 2010, 01:01 PM #29
April 29th, 2010, 07:32 PM #30