Wednesday, November 16, 2011

War & Peace

Since it now feels like winter (temp never got out of the 30s today) I have undertaken War & Peace, in the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
My 4th year Russian class was supposed to read it, but the Soviet (showing my age here!) powers-that-be sent copies of Resurrection instead. So we read that, but it wasn't the same. Who knows if we would have made it through this tome? Guess I missed my chance - by now my Russian vocabulary is so buried I have to read it in English.

This pair of translators promise a more accurate rendition than their predecessors. Where Tolstoy liked to repeat words and phrases, translators took it upon themselves to "clean up" his sentences by minimizing the repetitions. But surely we can admire Tolstoy the writer enough to believe that his technique was deliberate. Pevear and Volokhonsky have decided he knew what he was up to, and respect him enough to leave his phrasing intact. Thus, I detect the flavor of the Russian through their English text.

I came late to Tolstoy - my first love among Russian writers is Dostoyevsky, followed by Solzhenitsyn (particularly The First Circle and Cancer Ward). But when I named a character Anna Karenina Brubaker, I had to find out who she was. Soon after, I read Hadji Murad, a beautiful novella about a warrior chieftain in the Caucasus - and if War & Peace is too daunting, I highly recommend you read this fine book.

Some years ago the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, screened the 7 hour Soviet War & Peace (released 1967-69) in its entirety, on successive evenings. When it was made, it was said to be the most expensive film in cinematic history, employing tens of thousands of extras in nineteenth century battle garb, arrayed for vast panoramic shots. Now a film studio would use CGI for those armies (which, yes, would make them look like video game images). It's a breath-taking epic, though the ending was politicized in heavy-handed Soviet fashion - "oh, the heroically suffering Russian people, oh the vain and stupid French invaders" - but even at 7 hours I knew I was getting just a taste of the book. When I heard about this translation, I decided "it's time."

Time is what it takes - so tag along as I post my progress.

1 comment:

  1. Viva! So fun that we are reading this at the same time!