Russian Readers Club discussion

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What are some of the best translations?

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message 1: by Brad (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:57PM) (new)

Brad | 4 comments I was hoping to get your opinions on the best english translations of classic russian literature. Of particular interest for me is Doestoevsky and Chekhov. I know that Constance Garnett is prevalent but not necessarily well thought of. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated! Thanks! //Brad


message 2: by Dima (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:58PM) (new)

Dima | 1 comments try Robert Payne's "Fourty Stories". compared it with the Russian versions, and liked it most.


message 3: by Doug (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:04PM) (new)

Doug | 1 comments I studied Slavic literature in college and moved to Russia two and a half yers ago. The prevailng oppinion in acadamia was that the current team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsy were the best. Though my Russian is far from perfect, I generally agree. If they have done a translation, I always choose them. They've done most of the major works, especially by Dostoevsky. They're translations of The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karinina, and The Collected Tales of Nikilai Gogol especially stand out. Constance Garnett was the first major translator of Russain lit, which is why it's they're so popular, though, you're right, not necessarily great. As for Chekhov, i agree with Dima about Payne.


message 4: by Stephen (new)

Stephen | 4 comments Why specifically are Garnett's translations considered inferior? And what about Pevear's translations make them superior in your opinion? I'm relatively new to Russian literature haven't been able to figure this out. Thanks.


message 5: by Charlize (new)

Charlize | 8 comments The Pevear/Volokhonsky team is tops on my list. I recently read their translated version of Master and Magarita (Published in 1997 by Penguin Modern Classics), and it was a pleasure to read. I read an earlier version of M&M published in 1996 about 4 years ago and found that I had to "re-read" bits and pieces here and there to solidify what was "meant" due to the broken sentence structures and concepts. I would definitely recommend the team. Another noteworthy translator is David Magarshack- I am currently reading a compilation of short stories by Dostoevsky (published by Modern Library) and am finding it fine so far :)


message 6: by Stephen (new)

Stephen | 4 comments Hmmm I may have to do a similar re-read eventually, Charlize. I've been just picking up whatever translation was available from the library and so far have yet to run across any Pevear or Magarshack translations which is making me think that maybe I should've taken a different approach from the beginning. Garnett, Carmichael, and Monas are the translators that I've read so far and although I feel I got a good representation of the text, part of me feels that at some point, I may want to re-read a different translation if I want to gain a better appreciation of these works.


message 7: by Charlize (new)

Charlize | 8 comments The re-read is understandable Stephen. I think (personally) the translation of a novel is in tandem with your degree of appreciation. Not to say that reading a "poorer" translation would not be worth your time, as the context of the novel would be grasped by any reader...It's just that a "better" translation makes the works more palatable to the reader...especially in cases of a very long novel like War and Peace!


message 8: by Tom (last edited Apr 02, 2011 06:56AM) (new)

Tom | 62 comments I can't comment on her faithfulness to original, but after comparing versions of Chekhov's "My Life," I really don't see why poor old Connie G gets dismissed after P&V arrived. Not a lot of difference that I can hear.


message 9: by Stephen (new)

Stephen | 4 comments @Patrice--I know exactly what you mean about having trouble remembering all the names. With Russian lit it's so much more difficult as well because of all the nicknames that are continually substituted throughout. And not to mention that these names are unfamiliar to most English speakers. The only way I've found to keep them straight is by starting a list right away and keeping track of all the names and nicknames right from the beginning. Unfortunately, when I'm reading for leisure, I rarely do this and get confused rather easily. haha

@Tom--So many different opinions! I think the only thing that we can count on is that there'll always be lively discussion on which translation is best. I imagine that in a decade or so, there'll be some new translation out there and everyone will say how it's so vastly superior to P+V. Maybe it's just a ploy for the publishers to sell more books! haha


message 10: by Tom (new)

Tom | 62 comments Agreed, Stephen, it is fun to debate merits of translations, and for time I became obsessed with acquiring all translations of favorite writers, especially the Rooskies, but gradually came to realize that I found the differences, in terms of substantially affecting a reading, were more pronounced in poetry than prose -- though as soon as I say that, I think of prose of someone like Babel, whose rich and sometimes weird imagery, can come off quite differently depending on the trans.. Such differences just don't strike me as that apparent in Chekhov.


message 11: by Tom (new)

Tom | 62 comments I believe you're right, Patrice. Frost also defined poetry as "a momentary stay against the confusion." (both of which suffice to confirm that Frost was a far more complex poet than many acknowledge)


message 12: by Sergey (new)

Sergey (sergeybp) | 18 comments Sometimes Wikipeida entry is extremely handy. In case of War and Peace, in addition to the overall setting and background info, it also provides special entry for the principal characters


message 13: by Stephen (new)

Stephen | 4 comments Dang, now THAT's a good idea Sergey! Too bad it only works for the more well known novels but still an excellent resource.


message 14: by Sergey (new)

Sergey (sergeybp) | 18 comments @Patrice: well, nobody's perfect ;)


message 15: by John (new)

John | 4 comments I'll just mention my favorite translator - Mirra Ginsberg. Though I don't read Russian, I've read various translations of my favorite Russian works and I usually find hers the most readable. I especially liked her Master & Margarita translation, which was just amazing. After reading it though, I learned that her text was translated from a Soviet edited version. But since I don't know what was left out, I can't say if the missing stuff was missing for political reasons. I'd be curious to know about that.

Stephen asked what the problem is with Garnett. I read a bunch of her translations in college, and I personally found her language a little stilted. This was probably just because of the time in which she was writing though. I might be wrong, but I seem to recall her as translating in the early 1900's, maybe even a bit earlier.


message 16: by Tom (new)

Tom | 62 comments I read Ginsberg's M&M, as well, and found it quite readable, too, though I had nothing to compare it to. I had no idea it had been "air-brushed," so to speak, by Soviets. This revelation bestirs me to dust off the P&V trans, which has been sitting on my shelf for some time. Thanks for the tip, John.


message 17: by Amyjzed (new)

Amyjzed | 5 comments Doug wrote: "I studied Slavic literature in college and moved to Russia two and a half yers ago. The prevailng oppinion in acadamia was that the current team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsy were the b..."
I am just chiming in with a translation comment/question to whomever would like to reply...
I read The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov in Constance Garnett's translations, and am now reading Anna Karenina in the P & V translation. (I also bought three more Russian novels in the P & V translations recently, since I keep hearing that they are the best.)
What surprised me just now is that in one scene of Anna K, P & V use the word "gay" to describe some fun-loving youths... the same word as was used in the Constance Garnett translation of the same text.
I thought Constance Garnett was stuck in Victorianisms, but why would anyone now use the word 'gay' to mean happy? I don't think anyone uses that word in English to sincerely mean happy, cheerful or joyous. Or is it just because I work with teenagers that my mind has been corrupted on the only realistic connotations of this word?
Just wondering on what P & V's philosophy is in this regard of contemporary uses of language and meaning.


message 18: by Tom (new)

Tom | 62 comments Well, P should certainly know better, but maybe V over-ruled him, though as I understand their working methods, she does the first draft and he "cleans" it up.
regardless, I agree that "gay," at least to my American ear, would sound pretty archaic today.


message 19: by Bob (new)

Bob Tom wrote: "Well, P should certainly know better, but maybe V over-ruled him, though as I understand their working methods, she does the first draft and he "cleans" it up.
regardless, I agree that "gay," at ..."


I am jumping in here without introducing myself in an introductory thread, as is customary, but I'm afraid I'm too eager to participate in the discussion to take the time to go into the other thread. I am a 58-year-old attorney in Washington DC. I really enjoyed Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment, Brothers K, Notes from Underground) and Tolstoy (Anna K) when I was younger, and now that there are new translations out I am slowly psyching myself up to reread them, as well as tackling War and Peace for the first time - the P/V version has been bought, but remains unopened so far. One problem is that my to-read shelves are very crowded.

What I wanted to say here is that, to me, "gay" would be an appropriate synonym for "happy" in the context of an Anna K translation. I think that I expect an 1800s-era novel to sound like an 1800s-era novel when it is translated. If P and V are using a lot of 20th (or 21st) century words in their translations, I may end up being disappointed in them.


message 20: by Natasha (new)

Natasha | 9 comments Bob wrote: "Tom wrote: "Well, P should certainly know better, but maybe V over-ruled him, though as I understand their working methods, she does the first draft and he "cleans" it up.
regardless, I agree th..."

Welcome to the group, Bob.That's quite reasonably. I find in Tolstoy's novels a lot of obsolete words, and translators should take it into consideration. I've just started to reread "War and Peace" in English this time. I'm interested in comparing in Russian and English version.


message 21: by Amyjzed (new)

Amyjzed | 5 comments Thanks for your input, Natalie! I wold hope that when reading in English the best translators will help me to experience the text similarly to the way one would experience it who is reading it in Russian. I guess that can never be perfectly achieved, though!
Maybe if I'm going to be that picky I may as well try learning to read in Russian for myself. ;)


message 22: by Natasha (new)

Natasha | 9 comments Amyjzed wrote: "Thanks for your input, Natalie! I wold hope that when reading in English the best translators will help me to experience the text similarly to the way one would experience it who is reading it in R..."

Amyjzed, it would be great, if you could read in Russian.:)
I haven't run into any incorrect words or expressions so far, and I hope I won't...


message 23: by Brixton (new)

Brixton | 1 comments Bob wrote: ""gay" would be an appropriate synonym for "happy" in the context of an Anna K translation. I think that I expect an 1800s-era novel to sound like an 1800s-era novel when it is translated. If P and V are using a lot of 20th (or 21st) century words in their translations, I may end up being disappointed in them."

Agreed. I would not expect nor would I desire a translation to update its language to appease modern readers any more than I should wish modern clothes and an updated hairdo to be put on the Mona Lisa. To me, that would be a poor translation.

I also despise Anglicized translations. I prefer that Russian currency, for example, be called rubles and not dollars or pounds; street names should not be translated; Russians should not be saying things like "jolly old chap", "right laddie!" and "aye, mate". It's jarring, and makes me wonder what else in the text is being so vandalised. The worst offender of this sort I have come across was Avrahm Yarmolinsky's translations of Gorky's short stories.

For these reasons I go out of my way if I have to in order to find Garnett's translations. Besides, the English-speaking world, at one time having no other choice but Garnett, still found these Russian novels and stories to be the masterpieces that they are, and Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, et al, to have unique styles and voices, even varying from one work to the next (for example, I like being able to tell Dostoevsky was ON when he wrote The Brothers Karamazov in a way he wasn't quite when he wrote The Possessed). So considering Garnett's translations "ain't broke", I am not seeing any compelling arguments for "fixing" them.


message 24: by Amyjzed (new)

Amyjzed | 5 comments I guess my point was that if the Russian word that was translated to "gay" also sounds antiquated to the modern Russian ear, then it was an accurate translating decision.
But to translate the novel word for word in this way might be impossible!


message 25: by Leonard (new)

Leonard (leonardseet) | 6 comments Tolstoy may have used the expression to adoration. I know some cultures use it that way and perhaps in 19th century it was used similarly. But from our perspective, it certainly seem to have male-chauvinist overtone.

I don't know French or Russian, but in Spanish, -ito or -ita is added at the end of a word to modify it and mean little something. So the French or Russian word could be a modification of the word for wife.


message 26: by Avrelia (new)

Avrelia | 2 comments In Russian, Tolstoy refers to Lisa Bolkonskaya as "маленькая княгиня" - using not the word "wife", but her title, knyaginya - the wife of knyaz. So the literal translation would be "little princess", except it has a very different connotation in English. Tolstoy refers both to her diminutive stature, and her insignificance to prince Andrey, I think.


message 27: by Natasha (new)

Natasha | 9 comments Avrelia wrote: "In Russian, Tolstoy refers to Lisa Bolkonskaya as "маленькая княгиня" - using not the word "wife", but her title, knyaginya - the wife of knyaz. So the literal translation would be "little princess..."
Really Tolstoy refers both to her "diminutive stature" and, as Leonard have said, he "have used the expression to adoration". Tolstoy doesn't speak on behalf of Bolkonsky, he conveys his own feelings about her.
As for the word "gay", in Russian "gay" and "homosexual" aren't synonyms, so there isn't any problem.


message 28: by Zoia (new)

Zoia Eliseyeva (ZoiaCalifornia) | 4 comments I came across somebody's question here about the Russian language, and that it did not change much since 19th century, if compared with how different is Victorian English (Dickens, etc.)from modern.
Then there was: ask the linguist.
I am the one, native Russian too.
Tolstoy, Dostoevskiy, Goncharov, Chekhov are world classics for their 1) thoughts and 2)language. It is amazing how beautifully simple and sincere is their language, without comlications. It's beautiful, rich, and yet, not overwhelmed with "showing off", sophistications. Many writers think that the more their language has "too sophisticated" words, the smarter they will look and the more prestigious they will be ranked among their colleagues or readers.
This is a misperception. I recently read some modern Russian journalists' thoughts, written with some pretenciousness. I was tired of reading that. I thought:"Why they just don't look at the classics". Those are never tiresome - always simple, yet rich (vocabulary). The thoughts are so deep that every time you open the book and reread, you find new and new things for yourself that you missed in previous reading(s).
Dickens was valued by Russian writers (I just read in journal "Sovremennik" (St.Petersburg, 1847), but criticized too. If I am not mistaken, there was mentioned a bit heavyish style/language, while not being measured to the depth of thought.


message 29: by Natasha (new)

Natasha | 9 comments Zoia wrote: "I came across somebody's question here about the Russian language, and that it did not change much since 19th century, if compared with how different is Victorian English (Dickens, etc.)from modern..."

Zoia, I agree with your view on Russian literature! I constantly compare books by modern authors with classics and receive evidence that the latter is matchless.


message 30: by Zoia (new)

Zoia Eliseyeva (ZoiaCalifornia) | 4 comments Natalie wrote: "Zoia wrote: "I came across somebody's question here about the Russian language, and that it did not change much since 19th century, if compared with how different is Victorian English (Dickens, etc..."

Thank you, Natalie. It always feels nice to come across/meet people who share similar views. I wish my spouse could be in that category! :)


message 31: by Natasha (new)

Natasha | 9 comments You'd like too much!


message 32: by John (new)

John | 30 comments Zoya, I am surprised you consider you answer to represent a linguist's point of view. The relative rigidity of Russian language is, first, overrated, and, second, has absolutely nothing to do with the Russian writers of the late 1800s. It only seems to you that Russian was changing slower than English, because you know Russian better. Protopope Avvakum, a genius Russian writer contemporary with Shakespeare, is not any easier to read for modern Russians that Shakespeare is for today's English speakers.

Dickens was the same generation as Goncharov and Dostoevsky, and he is not any harder to read at all. Chekhov, of course, was much younger (he was 10 when Dickens died), and his language is to be compared with O.Henry's and London's, not Dickens or Melville's.

Finally, you are making a mistake typical for Russian speakers. You mechanically generalize the instruments of Russian language, highly flectional, onto English, which is nearly isolating. Richness and colorfulness of expression in Russian (as, to somewhat lesser degree, in German) is achieved through elaborated grammatical constructs (as witnessed by typical half-page sentences of Russian or German classics) and inventive use of word synthesis (prefixes, suffixes etc), while in English the main instrument is its immense vocabulary. Either Shakespeare, or Dickens, or Joyce - their vocabulary, counting only unique stems, includes 15-20 000 roots. This is much larger than of any Russian writer (Tolstoy used 16 000 *words*, not stems). The beauty of English literature therefore, unlike Russina literature, is defined by "complications" and "sophisticated words" - although it makes it much more difficult to fully enjoy, say, Melville or Styron for a foreigner.

I also quite disagree that 'the great Russians' are popular in the West for their prose (I suppose that is what you meant under 'their language'). Not only most of that is lost in translation, it is also impossible for English speakers to appreciate due to linguistic differences. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, that is what makes Russian classics attractive for the international readership. To give you an example, Moby Dick in Russian reads as an interesting novel - but it reads entirely differently compared to the original. And other Melville's books, equally greatly written but without a captivating plot, like Bartleby, are virtually unknown in Russia.


message 33: by Scott (new)

Scott Smithson | 13 comments John wrote: "I'll just mention my favorite translator - Mirra Ginsberg. Though I don't read Russian, I've read various translations of my favorite Russian works and I usually find hers the most readable.

The trouble is that Ginsberg translated the censored copy of M&M. She's a good translator, but a lot is missing from that version.


message 34: by Scott (new)

Scott Smithson | 13 comments Zoia wrote: "I came across somebody's question here about the Russian language, and that it did not change much since 19th century, if compared with how different is Victorian English (Dickens, etc.)from modern..."


Really? Realists of any language have a reputation for being easier to translate than romantics or symbolists. Interesting how you didn't pick Pushkin Gogol, Bely, Bulgakov or Sologub, none of whom have particularly straightforward styles but are some of the best writers who ever lived. Gogol, for example, is best enjoyed only in the original Russian. Nothing of the alliteration, humor or irony can really be translated effectively. Lermontov, who wrote one of the most astoundingly poetic works of prose, only comes off as a simple story in translation, precisely because of the intricacies of the language used.

I have to disagree, strongly, that Russian literature is beautiful because it is devoid of what you call artistic complications, like Dickens or Shakespeare. Frankly, your argument is mostly a commentary on a very specific genre of literature (realism). Really, you could say the same thing about Flaubert... or Eliot....

Any language is made beautiful in the hands of a skilled artist. And any language can be used to convey a huge variety of styles. Aesthetic judgments on the nature of a language are inherently subjective. I mean.. no one... can possibly say the prose in "What is to be Done" is anything but unreadable, perhaps only made better by translation. The same thing can be said of something awful like "On the Road" in English.

The only truth you can derive about the beauty of language is that it is made beautiful by the artist, and appreciated by the reader. Both the beauty and the appreciation are intensely mitigated by individual taste, culture and experience.


message 35: by John (last edited Aug 11, 2011 09:41PM) (new)

John | 30 comments Scott wrote: "no one... can possibly say the prose in "What is to be Done" is anything but unreadable, perhaps only made better by translation. The same thing can be said of something awful like "On the Road" in English. "

I find both perfectly readable, and interesting in their own ways. And, to make it straight, I am not a big fan of Kerouac ('On the Road' is his only book I like) and am not a supporter of Chernyshevsky's philosophy at all. Yet I read WItBD without being bored, even though it was a required reading in our high schools, and I enjoyed OtR, not the least for its naive, colloquial prose. It read as a narration by a regular guy, not particularly versed in weaving words, and it sat well with me as a reader.

What I do find unreadable is Faulkner - now you can throw stones at me.


message 36: by Pete (new)

Pete | 3 comments On the subject of translation, I find it a bit baffling in David McDuff's translation of the Brothers Karamazov that I'm reading, he notes the older meaning of soblazn is scandel rather than temptation, but then uses the word temptation to translate it anyway rather than scandalise which seems to fit the context better (taking a medicine to exorcise visions)


message 37: by John (new)

John | 30 comments Pete wrote: "On the subject of translation, I find it a bit baffling in David McDuff's translation of the Brothers Karamazov that I'm reading, he notes the older meaning of soblazn is scandel rather than tempta..."

This word in Russian never means 'scandal', and never did. It normally means 'temptation', with the corresponding verb, 'soblaznit', meaning 'to tempt'. An additional somewhat older meaning exists, 'to seduce'. I've just searched BK for this word, and it is used mostly in the former sense, and a few times in the latter, but, of course, never as 'scandalize'.

If McDuff does say so, he has no business translating Russian books.


message 38: by Zoia (new)

Zoia Eliseyeva (ZoiaCalifornia) | 4 comments Natalie wrote: "You'd like too much!"

Ivan,
Thank you. It was interesting.
1) The Russian spread of derivatives of any root/entry of the dictionary is larger than it is in English. There are much more derivative clusters.
I just came back from teaching my Russian class.
2) Emilia Pardo Bazan read German philosophers in French translation. It was easier to grasp their thought in the French presentation - not because she did not know German enough. Don't you find it funny? (Funny like "chistoso" in Spanish or "smeshno, zabavno" in Russian). Well, I do.
3) I love "Moby Dick".
4) Dickens was referred as a hard, boring reading (do not get it personally please!!!) by Nekrasov and his colleagues (just in one article I read recently from that magazine) - writers, the members of a literary circle, or literary magazine "Sovremennik" (St. Petersburg, mig 19th century). The magazine was started by Pushkin, then Nekrasov bought it and revived.
Thanks once more, for your sharing. We learn from each other as we share. If you have different opinion from me, and do not learn anything from me, that's fine with me.
In Russian culture women are submissive to men, generally. I would never argue with a man, a smart man - I would respect his point of view and value the piece of knowledge that I did not possess may be before.
My brother asked me once "How many words are there in the Eng language?" I went to the library and asked librarians and they did not know what to say. So I went to a book shelf with a biggest dictionary. It is 400,000 (approximately). I think it was Oxford dictionary - do not remember what edition. Of course, language is language. We all understand that. It cannot possibly have exact numbers.
Well, I have been with English from my childhood, but I cannot claim I know it as well as I know my native Russian.
My passion is to compare languages. I love to read in the three - it is very exciting.
I learn Italian now for my soon coming trip. A lot of surprises, in spite of my knowledge of Spanish and French (Spanish Interm-High Interm, French- Beg-High Beg).
I wish you luck!
Sincerely,
Zoia


message 39: by Zoia (new)

Zoia Eliseyeva (ZoiaCalifornia) | 4 comments Scott wrote: "John wrote: "I'll just mention my favorite translator - Mirra Ginsberg. Though I don't read Russian, I've read various translations of my favorite Russian works and I usually find hers the most re..."

Thank you Scott,
I agree with you.
Pushkin, Lermontov, and Gogol are my favorite writers, by the way. One cannot read enough of those.
Thank you for your comment on my comment.
Sincerely,
Zoia Sproesser


message 40: by Vladimir (new)

Vladimir Bolmosov | 2 comments Соль моего поста в том хоть кто-то освятил тему и кого были такие же сложности при наращивании словарного запаса и как пришли к тому, что способны читать вообще без словаря, зная скажем процентов 95 лексики, оборотов, фразовых глаголов и т.д вообще без словаря. В данный момент я читаю Дракулу, и я вам скажу, что она просто в разу сложнее в плане лексики, чем например *Убить пересмешника*. Довольно сумбурно получилось, но увы лучше я раскрыть эту тему вряд ли смогу,


message 41: by Gabriel (new)

Gabriel Butler | 1 comments I read a good article about this topic in The New Yorker last year

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/200...


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