Monday, September 28, 2009

War and Peace

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have begun a quiet revolution in the translation of Russian literature. War and Peace is their latest translation. It is an extraordinary achievement, particularly because Pevear does not speak or read Russian but relies on a literal translation (with notes on syntax, nuances of meaning, and literary references) by his wife Larissa to write a more finished English draft. What really makes this wonderfully fresh and readable translation stand out from its predecessors is its absolute fidelity to the language of Tolstoy.

from a review by Orlando Figes in the New York Review of Books.


  1. I've read several of the P&V translations, including Ana Karenina, and enjoyed each one. I was surprised to read that Pevear relies exclusively on his wife's literal translation. I would think he would have to have some sense of the Russian language to capture the meaning and flow of the narrative.

  2. I've always been partial to Rosemary Edmonds' translation of "War and Peace." She passed away about 10 years ago. But I'm looking forward to reading this translation. I've read the P/V translation of Dostoevsky's "Demons" and "The Idiot" and thought both were terrific -- big improvement on Constance Garnett.

  3. I started reading W&P the other night, but didn't get very far.

    I read Demons as well, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Gives a fascinating portrait of the early anarchists in Russia, as well as Dostoevsky's view of the ideal religious state. I have to dig out my notes on it, as it was one of those books that generated a tremendous amount of controversy at the time, with Tolstoy and Turgenev both commenting on it.

  4. am on p 700 of the p/v translation (having read their death of ivan ilych & other tales) and am still rivetted

  5. Thanks for looking in, nobodhi. I like the play on your name. I took a sabbatical during the summer and am only now catching up on posts. Please return with more thoughts on War and Peace and other books.