Unless I’m riding my bike or spending time with friends, you can bet that I’d rather be reading a novel. Especially Russian novels, which I studied in college to earn a degree in Russian literature.
My attachment to Russian literature began as quickly and simply as my attachment to bicycling. During my junior year of high school, I randomly grabbed a book off the library shelf – The Death of Ivan Ilych and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy. This Tolstoy guy was like nothing I’d read before. His direct approach to life’s most important questions through perfectly executed plot and vivid characters swept me away. This Tolstoy guy wasn’t fucking around.
My first semester of college, I enrolled in a Russian language course and almost immediately decided to major in Russian literature, instead of my vague plan for American literature.
Now I’m a lawyer, but I fill my free time as much as possible with reading novels. That is, when I’m not riding my bike, taking pictures or blogging. Sometimes, like today, I combine all four activities.
Recently I finished reading War and Peace for the first time.
No, not in Russian! In English.
There is a reason War and Peace is called the greatest novel ever written: it is the greatest novel ever written.
Now I am reading – for the fourth time – Anna Karenina. I decided to leave behind my much-marked-up copy from college (how I marked my books up! instead of relaxing and letting the words flow over me) for the new translation by husband-wife duo Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Pevear and Volokhonsky are the masters of Russian translation (I’ve also read their versions of W&P and Dostoevsky’s Demons and The Adolescent). Take this pivotal passage from Anna Karenina.
The Norton Critical Edition translation by Gibian:
That for which nearly a year had been Vronsky’s sole and exclusive desire, supplanting all his former desires: that which for Anna had been an impossible, dreadful, but all the more bewitching dream of happiness, had come to pass. Pale with trembling lower jaw, he stood over her, entreating her to be calm, himself not knowing why or how.
The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation:
That which for almost a year had constituted the one exclusive desire of Vronsky’s life, replacing all former desires; that which for Anna had been an impossible, horrible, but all the more enchanting dream of happiness – this desire had been satisfied. Pale, his lower jaw trembling, he stood over her and pleaded with her to be calm, himself not knowing why or how.
So what are you waiting for? Get your paws on some Tolstoy!