One can heartily recommend Bromfield’s translation to readers new to War and Peace, but for a fuller sense of Tolstoy’s...



If you’re a mountain climber, it’s still Everest.  If you’re a baseball player, it’s the career home-run record.  If you translate from the Russian, sooner or later you’ll visit the Colossus:  Leo Tolstoy’s enormous masterpiece, whose composition absorbed a decade and whose godlike scope embraces “the intertwining of historical events with the private lives of two very different families of the Russian nobility.”

The words are those of Richard Pevear, who, with his wife Larissa Volokhonsky, has joined the intrepid army of translators including Victorian phenomenon Constance Garrett (who introduced War and Peace to the English-speaking world in 1904) and extending to her countryman Anthony Brigs, whose own new translation appeared to considerable acclaim in 2006.

The credentials Pevear and Volokhonsky bring to their task (lucid English-language versions of classic works of Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Chekhov; a vibrant Anna Karenina in 2001) might well have discouraged rival translators.  But not Andrew Bromfield, an accomplished scholar-critic perhaps the best known for translating the fiction of contemporary Russian malcontent author Victor Pelevin.

What’s new about Bromfield’s War and Peace? It reproduces the 1866 text: a leaner version of the novel, written before Tolstoy had conceived the discursive chapters of historical argument that would swell the later full text to nearly 1,500 pages. Interestingly this “first” version was made available to Russian readers only as recently as 2000.

Pevear and Volokhonsky give us the whole animal, and claim for translation the distinction of reproducing fully Tolstoy’s use of foreign languages (particularly French – considered more “elegant” by the aristocracy, even, one infers, after Napoleon was threatening to incinerate their homeland). Inevitably, their version seems ampler, more scrupulously descriptive and analytical. But there are other, subtler differences: for example, in the following account of a wolf hunt, which is a metaphor for the approaching death throes of the old landed aristocracy:

“The wolf was already at the edge of the wood, he paused in his run, turned his grey head awkwardly towards the dogs, in the way someone sick with angina turns his head and, with the same gentle rolling movement, leapt once, then again, and the last thing they saw was his tail disappearing into the wood.”  (Bromfield)

“The wolf slowed his flight, turned his big-browed head towards the dogs awkwardly, as if suffering from angina, and, swaying just as softly, leaped once, twice, and, with a wag of his tail, disappeared into the bushes.”(Pevear and Volokhonsky)

One can heartily recommend Bromfield’s translation to readers new to War and Peace, but for a fuller sense of Tolstoy’s comprehensive and commanding artistic mastery, Pevear and Volokhonsky remain unchallenged as the A-team of Russian translators.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-06-079887-1

Page Count: 912

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.


Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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