Sunday, October 24, 2010

A New Doctor Zhivago

Today I got out and rode my bike for three hours, was caught in the rain, but returned relaxed after riding in the country. Enjoy the autumn while you can:  the tree in the back yard is bare, the trees in our front yard are still orange, but it's only a matter of time before the cold sets in.  It snowed a year ago Friday.  Soon there will be no more bicycling:  just weekend after weekend of reading Russian novels. 

I didn't get dressed yesterday because I was reading the new translation of Doctor Zhivago. Consider my enthusiasm equal to that generated by Obama's recent visit to a house in my neighborhood.  I couldn't get dressed for that event, either, meaning that I didn't go. But I got psyched at B&N last week over a new translation of Boris Pasternak's masterpiece by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, award-winning translators.  OhmyGod--and I couldn't buy the book, either, because I was already carrying too many packages for my bike pannier.  But a copy managed to appear in the house.  No protests from my husband, either.

The previous English translation of Doctor Zhivago by Manya Harari and Max Hayward came out in 1958.  It was done in haste after the international excitement fueled by Pasternak's winning the Nobel Prize for his Soviet-banned novel, which was first published in Italy in 1957 and banned in Russia until 30 years later.  Pasternak accepted the Nobel by telegram and then had to decline, pressured by the Soviet Union.  His son finally picked up the prize for him in 1989. 
Doctor Zhivago is both a page-turner--I can read this the way others read John Grisham--and a poetic masterpiece.  I am rapt over many passages in this new translation. Here's Yuri's observation of a foul day in autumn.
“The rain poured down most disconsolately, not intensifying and not letting up, despite the fury of the wind, which seemed aggravated by the imperturbability of the water being dashed on the earth. Gusts of wind tore at the shoots of the wild grape vine that twined around one of the terraces.  The wind seemed to want to tear up the whole plant, raised it into the air, shook it about, and threw it down disdainfully like a tattered rug.”
Here is the same passage in the Harari-Hayward translation:
“The rain poured with a dreary steadiness, neither hurrying nor slowing down for all the fury of the wind, which seemed enraged by the indifference of the water and shook the creeper on one of the houses as if meaning to tear it up by the room, swinging it up into the air, and dropping it in disgust like a torn rag.”
Actually I like both translations. The new one is  more elegant, the old one more concise.  Those who feel Pasternak just won the Nobel for political reasons--my husband tells me that’s the general view--may be very interested in this new, fuller version of Doctor Zhivago.
More later. 


Anonymous said...

This is partly to thank you for commenting on my blog. Also to say I just loved Dr Zhivago. I've listened to it read aloud twice now -- though in the older translation. Your two paragraphs side-by-side make your point.

Who is the new translator. I can barely make out his name or names on the front cover.

I kept comparing Dr Zhivago the Raj Quartet as two different visions of what a political book is or should be in the 20th century.



Frisbee said...

Ellen, the new translators are Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhansky. They've translated Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and more. They have won awards but perhaps are best known in the U.S. because Oprah picked their translation of Anna Karenina for her book club.

I love this translation. I remember your posts on Dr. Zhvivago. Rereading the Raj Quartet would also be a great pleasure for me.

anokatony said...

I've never read Dr. Zhivago because I didn't realize it was a classic. Now that
Pevear and Volokhonsky have translated it, it automatically achieves classic status for me.

Frisbee said...

Tony, it is a classic, but its status has been tentativei n the U.S. Certainly I never read it for a Russian lit in translation class. My husband also thought it was more political than literary. This new translation is much more poetic and probably more faithful to the book. I understand that some of the sentences were cut from the original translation.

Chris Wolak said...

I saw the new translation at the bookstore the other day and will read it over the winter for sure. I learned how to play the theme to the movie on the cello many moons ago and loved the movie (which I've watched a half dozen times), but have yet to read the book. The side-by-side translations are fascinating.

Frisbee said...

Chris, it's such a pleasure to read it. I can't wait till winter to watch the movie again. The book is really a joy.