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

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WAR AND PEACE

ORIGINAL VERSION

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2007

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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