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Assembling My Atheneum: Larissa Volokhonsky & Richard Pevear

November 8, 2010

If I had unlimited funds, which authors would I want to see filling my bookshelves? That question originally arose from my musings about my home library, and I decided to start a new series to answer it. In Assembling My Atheneum, I’ll discuss the authors whose entire works I’d love to possess, as well as which books of theirs I’ve read, which I already own, and which I’d recommend to those wanting to give them a try. So far, I’ve featured A.S. Byatt and Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie.

Do you like my new button? I’m so excited that I finally have a bookshelf-related picture for the feature! For this round, I’d like to introduce you to my very favourite translators, a husband and wife team: Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear. But first, a digression into the nature of translations.

I’m a bit of a language nerd; one of my majors in college was Modern Languages, and in addition to studying Russian and French I took a couple of linguistics classes. So when I decide to read a book originally published in a language other than English, I immediately begin looking into my translation options. With contemporary literature, there usually aren’t any choices, but the classics are a different thing altogether. If it’s Russian, French, or Latin, I’ll see if I can find a free version in the original language online to compare to the English translations I’m looking at. But with all other languages, I’m at sea! So I use Google to try to get information, check the Amazon discussions of various translations (usually you can find a few people comparing and contrasting in their reviews), see if other book bloggers have any suggestions, and basically research as much as possible before making my choice. And once I’ve made my choice, I’m committed: if the library doesn’t have that translation, I won’t read the classic. (Or more likely, I’ll desperately try to ILL a copy in my preferred translation, ask for that version as a present, etc.) With English-language classics, I’m more than happy to buy the cheapest version I can find, or check out what’s available for free online. But the problem with non-English classics is that those versions rely on old translations, ones either published before 1911 (when translators were given copyright access for their work) or ones that have been around long enough to become public domain. In many cases, these are Victorian translators. Now, I love the Victorians, but their expectations of translators are the mirror image of my own. Translators were expected to ‘improve’ upon the original: faithfulness was not a virtue! So if, for instance, you mainly read Constance Garnett translations (an incredibly energetic translator), you’d be forgiven for imagining that most of the Golden Age Russian authors have remarkably similar styles. Since for me, as a reader, writing style is one of the most important aspects of fiction, I get frustrated at the idea of an author’s voice being subsumed by a translator. That being said, I also don’t believe that a good translation is one that’s necessarily ‘smooth.’ If the author wasn’t a smooth writer, the translation should reflect that! And certainly, a translation of a work from a couple hundred years ago shouldn’t read ‘modern.’ After all, do George Elliot or Wilkie Collins or Jane Austen have the same style as a modern author? Of course not, and that’s why we love them!

With all this in mind, let’s get back to Pevear & Volokhonsky (P&V from now on)! They hail from the US and Russia respectively, and you can read about how that affects their approach in this interview. Basically, they use their native language proficiencies in tandem, which makes perfect sense for a translation! And since they’re academics, they’re knowledgeable about the various times of the authors they translate, and they use that knowledge in their selection of English phrases. Not to mention, they’re fans of Lord Peter Wimsy and Harriet Vane! ;)

Apart from wishing I had their life (living in Paris, translating literary masterpieces), I’m also a P&V fangirl based on my experiences. I’ve read various Russian classic authors in the original (in the interest of full disclosure, there were primarily short stories or chapters from novels, since literature wasn’t my main focus in college) as well as in translations, and whenever I did a comparison, I found the P&V translation had the same feel to me as the Russian. And I will always admire them for their decision to leave the French in the main text of War and Peace (with English translations in the footnotes; Pevear has also translated French fiction); in my view, that’s how Tolstoy wrote it and that’s how it should be presented. So at this point, I’m willing to trust them completely! If there’s a P&V translation, it’s the only one I’ll read. And if there’s not a P&V translation, I have been known to throw a bit of a hissy fit.

P&V have primarily stuck to 19th century Russian literature, with a couple forays into Soviet authors. These latter two are Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (which I own, thanks Steph!) and Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (just published, with Frances running a group read that I’m dying to join if only my library was getting a copy). The lion’s share of their translations focus on Fyodor Dostoevksy: The Brothers Karamazov (which I own and plan on reading soon), Crime and Punishment (which I used to own, before foolishly lending it to a friend), Notes from the Underground (I read in a different translation and intend to reread in the P&V one), Demons, The Eternal Husband and Other Stories, The Idiot, The Adolescent, The Double, and The Gambler. They also have translated much of Chekhov’s shorter fiction, published in two volumes: The Complete Stories of Anton Chekhov (I’ve read) and The Complete Short Novels. They’ve also tackled two volumes of Nikolai Gogol: The Collected Tales and Dead Souls (top of my reading plans for 2011; I wish I owned a copy!). Finally, there’s the work they’ve done on Leo Tolstoy: What is Art?, Anna Karenina (I own this and have read it two or three times), War and Peace (I also own this and have read it), and The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories.

Whew! So you’ve got several authors to choose from to get to know them. If you’re a fan of magical realism, I highly recommend going for Bulgakov. If you enjoy those fat Victorian doorstoppers, Anna Karenina will probably appeal. If the Russians make you nervous, try dipping your toes in with some Chekhov. And if you enjoy fiction that focuses more on the characters’ inner lives, Dostevsky might be just the ticket. (I haven’t read Gogol or Pasternak, so I feel incompetent to recommend them, which is why I’m leaving them out of this paragraph, but I’ve heard good things about both!)

Finally, a brief mention of the Oprah effect: while I began reading P&V’s translations before Oprah selected their Anna Karenina for her book club, I’m very happy that they now have more money, fame and impetus to keep translating! I know some people have a knee-jerk disdainful reaction to anything Oprah has made popular, but P&V are well-respected within their field, so don’t allow your Oprah disdain to keep you from my favourite translators. ;)

What, in your opinion, makes a good translation? Do you have favourite translators? What, in your opinion, makes a good translation? (I know I’ve asked this before, and I took note of all of the ones y’all suggested, but it’s a question I’m always curious about!)

47 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2010 8:44 am

    Wow, I’ve actually been waiting for a post like this! I’m thinking of reading War & Peace next year and have been pondering which translation to get. I’m caught between Vintage’s V&P translation or OUP’s Louise & Aylmer Maude one (which apparently Tolstoy approved). But I’m more inclined toward the P&V just because I’ve heard so many good things about them. What do you say?

    • November 9, 2010 10:00 am

      I read the P&V version and loved it. :D But I didn’t do much comparison shopping, since at this point I trust P&V so if they’ve translated it, that’s the edition I get. Interesting that the Maude one was Tolstoy-approved!

  2. November 8, 2010 9:07 am

    I think the job of a translator is incredibly tough. For me, it’s critical that they stick as faithfully to the original text as possible, but they also need to make the translated fiction sound like the new language was what the author originally wrote in. I’ve picked up tons of foreign fiction where the English is stilted and awkward, and I feel like this cannot be doing the original work justice at all. For me, writing needs to be fluid and graceful, and I think a lot of translators stumble here; they adhere to strongly to what was on the original page and as a result, they sacrifice a little bit of the magic of writing. I think translation is one of those tricky sciences that has a healthy dash of artistry as well.

    One of my favorite translators is definitely Edith Grossman. I love what she’s done with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s works, and I’m dying to read her take on Don Quixote!

    • November 9, 2010 10:02 am

      I understand the whole stilted English thing! I like a *flavour* of the original language in English, but not so much that it feels almost illiterate. When I read Night Watch, for example, I could see how the English phrases made perfect sense in Russian, but didn’t work in English: that kind of literalism annoys me. On the other hand, I get a bit confused when I see very English idioms/phrases in a foreign work….like, in Goodbye, Tsugumi I was often distracted by just how American the narrator sounded. Translation is definitely a tricky thing. :) Edith Grossman is my go-to for Spanish translations too!

  3. November 8, 2010 9:30 am

    I have recently read two books that tell the effects (both positive and not so much) of translation perfectly for me. A Void by Georges Perec, the extended lipogram that left my head aching from its translation deficiencies and the new Madame Bovary translation from Lydia Davis that had a whole group of us ecstatically happy over the read. Lydia Davis is my favorite translator for all the elegance and restraint shown. Her translation of Swann’s Way was also gorgeous.

    P & V are like Everest climbers in my mind. Really looking forward to their new translation of Doctor Zhivago this month.

    • November 9, 2010 10:04 am

      You’ve recommended Lydia Davis to me before, and when I find the courage to give Proust a go she’s the translator I’ll be going with. I’m also tempted to reread Madame Bovary just to see if I connect with it more in the new translation! I can’t imagine trying to translate A Void: in addition to usual translating difficulties, not being able to use the letter ‘e’: I think translators are a bit insane to even try!

      Love your mental image of P&V. :)

  4. November 8, 2010 9:34 am

    I completely agree with you about translators. It makes a huge difference. I’ve heard wonderful things about P&V so I have their translation of Anna Karenina on reserve at my library. I can’t wait until it arrives! I’ve been wanting to read it for years but haven’t gotten to it.

    • November 9, 2010 10:04 am

      I hope you enjoy it! I really love it. :)

  5. November 8, 2010 10:09 am

    As a professional translator (albeit of commercial texts, not literature), I feel compelled to put my 2 cents in. :)

    When translating, there is a fine line between preserving the style and content of the original work as much as possible while at the same time making it accessible to a whole new audience. You have to analyse the text – and the intended audience – and decide which approach you want to take. After all, a translation will never be 100 % perfect, simply because it is a translation. I think a translator will always have the urge to “improve” on a text, perhaps with the use of a more modern vocabulary or by altering awkward sentence structure, but I agree with you that, at least when dealing with classics, it is important to keep the translation as close to the original as possible. I once wrote a paper in Uni comparing the first chapter of Jane Eyre in English with the Norwegian translation. I think I wrote it in English, perhaps I should dig it out and post it on my blog someday.

    Being Norwegian I don’t read many English translations, but I really admire Anthea Bell’s translation of the Inkheart trilogy by Cornelia Funke. Unfortunately I don’t know enough German to compare it to the original, but the text never once felt translated – which is what we all strive for. My favourite Norwegian translator is a man by the name of Torstein Bugge Høverstad, who has translated everything from Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter to Shakespeare and Dickens and won several awards for his translation work.

    Thank you for an interesting post!

    • November 9, 2010 10:07 am

      Thanks for sharing your experience Hilde! I imagine the target audience would be an important part of the translator’s role…I think we see that sometimes in scholarly translations put out by university presses v. popular ones. I’ve read the first of the Inkheart books, and it definitely didn’t feel translated! I understand that that’s your goal, but at the same time I don’t think a book should feel like an American/British author wrote it. You know?

      Høverstad sounds like quite an accomplished man!

  6. November 8, 2010 10:09 am

    I’ve not got enough experience with French translators and need to try Lydia Davis (Frances suggests in her comment above). I’m currently experimenting with translators of Japanese; no suggestions there, yet. My fave Russian translators are .. you guessed it! P&V! I’ve read “The Idiot,” “Dead Souls,” and “The Master & Margarita” in other translations and can’t wait to try the P&V versions. Too bad their translations weren’t around when I read for my Russian Lit class years ago. Do you know if they intend to translate more Soviet literature?

    • November 9, 2010 10:10 am

      I really enjoyed Meredith McKinney’s translation of The Pillow Book: she’s done some contemporary Japanese lit translations too. But that’s just from comparing her Pillow Book translation to other English translations: I’m completely clueless as far as Asian languages go!

      I don’t know if they’re going to start focusing on Soviet literature…I tend to strongly prefer pre-revolutionary Russian authors, so I don’t pay as much attention to the later stuff. Awful, I know!

  7. November 8, 2010 11:20 am

    I too have admired P&V for years, Eva, and it’s so great to see a whole post devoted to them! (Although unlike you, I never got far enough with studying Russian to read even a short story in the original language. Keep meaning to get back to it someday…)

    • November 9, 2010 10:10 am

      If you do get back to it, start off with Chekhov! He’s a lovely read, and his Russian is elegantly simple. :)

  8. November 8, 2010 12:50 pm

    I haven’t read anything by these translators but I’m behind you 100% in your wants from a translation! That is all :)

  9. November 8, 2010 12:57 pm

    I quite like Russian literature but have read so many different translators that I can’t possibly pick a favorite; I’ve mainly relied on literature professors to lead the way. My only experience with Pevear and Volokhonsky is The Brothers Karamazov, which I did enjoy very much. I didn’t get on as well with the translation I read of Doctor Zhivago, so I’m eager to give their new one a try. I also wish I’d waited on War & Peace – I enjoyed it but I had a really cheap edition, and I wish I’d known more about translators when deciding what to go for. I may yet reread it!

    • November 9, 2010 10:23 am

      That makes sense re: following your lit professors! As I mentioned in the post, literature was not my primary focus in studying Russian, so I mainly read for pleasure. :)

  10. November 8, 2010 1:03 pm

    Wonderful post!

    I was introduced to the art of selecting translators when I was in my freshman college English course. It was the first “official” course for English majors and I had a nutty professor that year. We focused on a lot of Greek works, including some amazing things by Sappho, but our main focus was on The Odyssey. We looked at a couple different translations of the work to compare and learned all about the style of the story. Since it was originally told orally, we had to think about what would sound better being read aloud. That’s when we started into the Fagles translation and it was LOVE for me right then. I adore Fagles for his work on The Odyssey and have his translation of The Aenid as well. I asked for The Iliad for Christmas, so we’ll see. :) He just made the story come alive and jump off the page as if a bard were next to me reciting it. From now on if there is a Fagles translation available for a Greek piece, I will certainly be choosing that over anyone else.

    Since that experience, I have been picky about my translators as well. When I read The Brothers Karamazov earlier this year, I made sure to get the P and V translation. I read Crime and Punishment by some other translator (I had a crappy edition) and the language was completely different. I definitely enjoyed the flow and feel of the P and V translation. They seemed to capture the essence of the work better than that other person did for Crime and Punishment.

    I have copies of their translations of Anna Karenina and War and Peace on my shelf as well. I am actually going to start War and Peace with Rebecca (from Rebecca Reads) in a little bit. I just love the beautiful cover. :)

    Anyway, I could go on. But I will definitely be adding pieces from these two to my own library as much as possible. I’ve loved all the Russian literature I’ve read so far (Turgenev was a wonderful surprise as well), so I need some good translations. :)

    • November 9, 2010 10:24 am

      What a great story! I read Fagles’ translation of The Aeneid this year, and I definitely want to reread The Odyssey now in his translation!

      Isn’t the War and Peace cover the loveliest thing? That’s one of my very favourite colours; my mom got me the hardcover edition for Christmas, and I love seeing it on my shelves. :D

      I’ve actually never read Turgenev: one of these days!

  11. November 8, 2010 1:33 pm

    I’m always cautious and check my options when getting a translation. I trust P&V most definitely. I waited to read The Three Musketeers until Pevear’s (without V) translation became available. I’d heard that he put all the fun back in that was edited out in earlier translations and I have to say I loved it.

    I also did a lot of research when I read Les Miserables to make sure I was getting the best translation available.

    • November 9, 2010 10:26 am

      I researched a lot for Les Mis too: I can’t believe that most of the editions are abridged in some way! I read Three Musketeers before his translation came out, but I think it’d be fun to reread it one of these days: it’s the only Dumas that I’ve enjoyed. ;)

  12. adevotedreader permalink
    November 8, 2010 2:52 pm

    I’ve heard almost uniform praise of V & P’s translations and am interested to see them in your Atheneum Eva. I’ve only read Tolstoy as translated by Constance Garnett so will have to re-read him in their versions.

    There was a discussion of their new Dr Zhivago translation in The Guardian you might be interested in- not exactly complementary unfortunately!

    • November 9, 2010 10:27 am

      Thanks for the link! I found that article quite interesting, since in a lot of her compare/contrast passages I preferred the P&V translation. But different strokes I guess! ;)

  13. Caroline permalink
    November 8, 2010 3:11 pm

    I’m ashamed to say that I’m a bit afraid of Russian literature, after my experience with War and Peace last year. I read Anthony Brigg’s translation, but I don’t think it was his fault – I really, really disliked one of the characters (I won’t say which for fear of causing offence!). That said, I do have the P&V Anna Karenina on my shelf, and I’m intending to start reading that quite soon. I hope I’ll like this one better – I do like big fat Victorian novels very much:).

    • Caroline permalink
      November 8, 2010 8:48 pm

      P.S. Forgot to say that I like your new button!

      • November 9, 2010 10:29 am

        I’ve e-mailed you, because I’m curious as to which character you disliked! I loathed Pyotr, which doesn’t surprise me since even though I love Tolstoy’s fiction, what I learned about his life in one class made me dislike him. ;)

        I hope AK works better for you: it’s definitely much more of a traditional novel that War & Peace. It’s a bit like Middlemarch, actually!

      • Caroline permalink
        November 9, 2010 2:51 pm

        I replied to your email before I saw your reply here! I looooove Middlemarch, so I might have to start AK sooner rather than later!
        I don’t know anything much about Tolstoy’s life, although I did recently see the film ‘The Last Station’, about the last year of his life, which I actually really enjoyed. Maybe he wasn’t so bad when he got older?!

  14. November 8, 2010 6:15 pm

    I just got my copy of War and Peace, definitely the P&V version! I’m leading a book club on it in January. I hope to start reading next week!

    • November 9, 2010 10:29 am

      Enjoy it! :D I actually got totally sucked into the story and couldn’t put it down. I wasn’t expecting that!

  15. November 8, 2010 7:31 pm

    I loved their translation of Anna Karenina! You have reminded me that I need to get back to War and Peace too.

  16. November 8, 2010 8:50 pm

    I just bought Dr Zhivago this weekend, because hello? That cover is eye catching! I’ve never read it…but I’m about 50 pages in, and loving it so far (although I’m reading a bunch of other books, too, so who knows when I’ll finish!).
    I also have their translation of War and Peace on the shelf.

    I read Every Book Its Reader earlier this year and there was a fascinating chapter on translation. Have you read that book? I think you’d like it.

    • November 9, 2010 10:30 am

      All of their covers for their translations are gorgeous! The new Dr. Zhivago one is definitely awesome. :)

      I haven’t read Every Book Its Reader, but I’ll be on the lookout for it now.

  17. November 9, 2010 12:26 am

    Beautiful post, Eva :) Thanks for the analysis of translators of Russian works and showing why Pevear and Volokhonsky are the best :) I liked very much your comment “I found the P&V translation had the same feel to me as the Russian”. I know some rudimentary Russian – enough to take a dictionary alongwith a book and tease the meaning out of it, if the words are complex – and I can understand what you mean by ‘same feel…as the Russian’. I have a translation of Pevear’s ‘The Three Musketeers’ from French, but I haven’t read any of P&V’s translation of Russian classics. I didn’t know that P&V have translated Boris Pasternak too. I can’t wait to get it :) I have read a different translation of ‘The Master and Margarita’ – it is by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor and I loved it – it had wonderful notes which helped me appreciate the life in Russia at that time and I found the reading experience quite wonderful. Have you heard of these translators?

    One of my favourite lines from alltime is from ‘Notes from the Underground’.

    If you haven’t read Mikhail Lermontov’s ‘A Hero of our Time’ I would recommend it. It is a short book but it is wonderful – Lermontov’s prose is a pleasure to read and the descriptions he gives of the Caucasus mountains are beautiful and breathtaking and takes us there.

    I am inspired very much by your idea of ‘Assembling My Atheneum’ :) I would love to imagine something like this – what kind of books I would like to have in my bookshelf.

    • November 9, 2010 12:44 am

      I forgot to mention two more things :) The translations of Ivan Turgenev that I read were by Isaiah Berlin and Leonard Schapiro and I loved them – I am not able to comment on the quality of the translation, but I loved them more because of Turgenev’s beautiful stories. Have you read any of Turgenev’s books? My favourites are ‘First Love’ and ‘Spring Torrents’.

      And I loved your button :) It is beautiful!

    • November 9, 2010 10:33 am

      The Pasternak translation was just released a couple of weeks ago! :) I’m glad you enjoyed this post, and your Russian lit experience puts mine to shame. I’ve actually never read Turgenev: sounds like I need to fix that! And I’ll be on the lookout for your recommend translators, since P&V haven’t done any of his stuff. I have read A Hero of Our Time, and unfortunately I’m not a fan. I have also visited Taman, the town Lermentov was in when he was writing the story, so I think my study abroad program just did a bit of overkill on the Lermentov focus.

      • November 9, 2010 11:50 am

        I really need to search for this new Pasternak translation now :) On your comment “your Russian lit experience puts mine to shame” – of course not! You are a real inspiration to readers like me – I read in a year what you probably read in a month or two :) But hope you enjoy reading Turgenev. He was the first Russian author that I read and I have loved all his books that I have read – most of them are small novellas and are beautiful. Maybe P&V will translate some Turgenev novellas soon :) Sorry to know that you didn’t like Mikhail Lermontov’s book. But wonderful to know that you have been to Taman! How was the town? How is that part of Russia? Is it as beautiful as the book says?

  18. November 9, 2010 12:12 pm

    I had no idea they did Dead Souls! It’s been on my TBR list for a while, so I’ll have to pick up their version. Actually…I’m going to search for their translations of any Russian lit I read in the future.

    I read the P&V version of Anna Karenina earlier this year and loved it. I have a cheap version of War and Peace on my nook, but I’m probably going to end up buying the P&V translation instead because they’re so great at what they do.

  19. jane permalink
    November 9, 2010 3:55 pm

    I am so happy to have read this post! You know so much more about these things than I probably ever will and I am really glad you have posted about it. I was recently on a trip to Africa and whilst I was there I positively devoured books – LONG ones, at that. I read Anna Karenina and fell utterly in love with it. The ending knocked my socks off — I had no idea of the fate of poor Anna (well, I wasn’t overly sympathetic towards her to be honest, but still – what an ending!). I loved it. I then went on to read Crime and Punishment – which I also loved, and which made me long to visit St Petersburg and tread the streets for myself. But I didn’t love it quite as much as I love AK, to my surprise – as you say, Dostoevsky focuses far more on the inner goings-on of his characters’ minds, and I’m usually all for this. I don’t know if it was the context but I found C&P not to be nearly as thought provoking as all that Levin had to say in AK. I then went on to read A Tale of Two Cities, which I loved almost as much as Anna Karenina, so maybe I was just in the mood for epic stories.

    Anyway, since coming back I’ve read a couple of books by Turgenev: First Love, which is part of the Penguin Great Loves series (I’m a sucker for anything melancholy and contemplative, and thought this series – which I found on special offer – might be just the ticket. And it was!). I am a sign-up membership-paid full-time lover of short stories, so perhaps it was the simple perfection of the tale which appealed to me, but I’d recommend it highly. Fathers and Sons is supposed to be Turgenev’s best work, and perhaps it is in literary terms, but I found First Love a better *story*. I have also read some Chekhov lately, and liked it very much – although i didn’t feel it was in the same league as Anna Karenina.

    I am signed up for the Dr Z readalong and can’t wait to get stuck in. Hope you can get hold of a copy too! The Master & Margarita is the Russian novel I hope to read next afetr that – I love magical realism so I’m sure I’ll love it too.

    I’m quite enamoured of the idea of P&V living in Paris and living in Russian novels. Fantastic!! I have always thought when reading a translation that I wonder how much i trust the translator, but it must be all the more interesting if you can actually compare with the original text. What a labour of love translating must be. (On which note, i recently read that when Tolstoy was submitting W&P for publication, his poor wife ‘had to’ copy it out for him, by hand, seven times!!!!).

    Sorry for mammoth rambling comment, and thanks for the interesting post and link to the interview!

  20. November 9, 2010 5:21 pm

    I also like P&V, though I haven’t read as much of their work as you have ;) Edith Grossman & Lydia Davis, both mentioned by others already are also quite wonderful.

    One of my favourite Canadian French-English translators is Sheila Fischman. She’s done tons of work here, and seems to be able to capture the tone of the original texts easily — and she’s translated some of my favourite French Canadian lit.

  21. November 9, 2010 9:47 pm

    I recently ran into two super sketchy translations in a row (one in Spanish and one in French), Eva, so I’ll start off with what I don’t like rather than what I do like in a translation. I hate when translators add words to an author’s text to make the text more “understandable” (i.e. adding the titles of books or people [real people or characters] not mentioned by the original author). I dislike it when translators leave authors’ sentences out of their translations (i.e. rewriting rather than translating). I hate it when translators change names to make characters have English- or American-sounding names rather than whatever their names are in the original language. With older titles in particular, I like to know what version of the text the translator used so I can compare it if I happen to read the original language in question. What makes a good translation? Complicated question! Avoidance of the no-no’s above is a good start, but I think it’s easier to recognize a good translation than to describe what makes it work so well. Will have to think about that one some more. I do think people are better off reading works in the original language whenever possible, but I realize that’s not always feasible for a variety of reasons. Anyway, thanks for a thought-provoking post P.S. Am reading Doctor Zhivago, my second P&V translation this year, for Frances’ readalong: it of course looks like a good translation so far!

  22. November 10, 2010 3:14 pm

    erm anthea bell ,micheal henry heim ,edith grossman ,magaret jull costa all favourites here at winstonsdad ,I ve a weak spot for russian lit hoping reading war and peace and couple of others next year will strength my knowledge in the area ,all the best stu

  23. November 13, 2010 4:28 am

    I have to admit that it isn’t until the last year that I came to realise the importance of the translator in reading translated works. I used to go for the cheapest but after comparing translations of War and Peace in my translation course this year I realised how different they are. And with that I took my (unread) copy of War and Peace to the charity shop and invested in the Volokhonsky and Pevear version. The plan is to start reading it in January.


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