Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Kapli kapali: new War and Peace translation

War and Peace to an English reader has become synonymous with something nobody ever has time to do.

I think this is unfair, I find following what happens, for expample in Eastenders, more difficult than the story flow in War and Peace.

Think, it was published in short installments in a periodic literary magazine over four years, 1864-1869. The text of the novel is broken into four volumes, each the size of your week-end paperback, and each volume is in short chapters easily consumed while you are having a bath or waiting in bed for the sleep fairy to come.

In this sense it is a kind of soap opera. In fact, it is very much like many of Dickens' novels.

Still, many put it off: too long, complicated names, pages in French, chunks of philosophical digression... Choosing the right translation can make a big difference to your enjoyment. Although there are already more than a dozen in print, two new versions have been battling it out - with some hostility - in 2007.

Although British translator Andrew Bromfield’s “concise” version (Ecco Press) may sound more tempting, it is the Pevear-Volokhonsky version (published by Knopf) which is causing huge excitement with its bold approach to language. For example, the Russian kapli kapali which has always been translated along the lines of the descriptive “raindrops dripped from the trees” is here rendered as “drops dripped” hence conveying the compactness (yes!) of Tolstoy’s language and that this is a sound heard in the dark. The two translators recently told a BBC Radio4 audience how they discovered that this version does work in English.

The US-Russian husband and wife team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky live in Paris and turned another Tolstoy great, Anna Karenina, into a best-seller when their translation was promoted by Oprah Winfrey. The pair have a passionate following among readers, and their work also includes Dostoyevsky and other Russian classics.

Google index:
War and Peace - 1.670 mln references in Russian internet, 95.6 mln references in English,
972 thousand if the word Tolstoy is added.

Picture: 1901 painting Tolstoy Barefoot by Ilya Repin

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