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How to Shoe a Flea

James Meek: Nikolai Leskov, 25 April 2013

‘The Enchanted Wanderer’ and Other Stories 
by Nikolai Leskov, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Vintage, 608 pp., £25, April 2013, 978 0 09 957735 5
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The Enchanted Wanderer 
by Nikolai Leskov, translated by Ian Dreiblatt.
Melville House, 256 pp., £8.99, August 2012, 978 1 61219 103 4
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... and described nightmare that he must frighten even himself. The 17 stories in the new Pevear-Volokhonsky translation are arranged in chronological order and ‘Lady Macbeth’, written in 1864, is the first. Were you to put the volume aside after reading it you would be misled. The young Anton Chekhov described Leskov as his favourite writer, and you can ...

Kinks on the Kinks

Michael Wood: Plots, 5 May 2016

by Robert Belknap.
Columbia, 165 pp., £22, May 2016, 978 0 231 17782 5
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... indeed some predestination, some indication in it’ (the translation is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky). Nothing like a mystical interpretation of chance ‘to make the universe look well organised’, even if the ordinary name for this conviction is paranoia. Reason itself becomes the abettor of madness, and paranoids don’t only have ...

Sympathy for the Devil

Michael Wood, 16 October 1997

The Master and Margarita 
by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor.
Picador, 367 pp., £20, August 1997, 0 330 35133 8
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The Master and Margarita 
by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Penguin, 412 pp., £7.99, May 1997, 0 14 118014 5
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... version was first published in the US in 1995, and in the UK this year; and Pevear’s and Volokhonsky’s appears this year for the first time. The start of an answer to the riddle must lie in the history of the book’s Russian publication. Bulgakov completed The Master and Margarita in 1939, but he was still working on changes up to his death in ...

Before They Met

Michael Wood: Dr Zhivago, 17 February 2011

Doctor Zhivago 
by Boris Pasternak, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Harvill, 513 pp., £20, October 2011, 978 1 84655 379 0
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... was a little conventional and also find virtues in it that Nabokov was never going to look for. Larissa Fyodorovna, often called Lara, the love of Zhivago’s life, remarks with seeming casualness: ‘It’s only in bad books that living people are divided into two camps and don’t communicate.’ She’s wrong, of course, it happens in good books and real ...

Dear Poochums

Michael Wood: Letters to Véra, 23 October 2014

Letters to Véra 
by Vladimir Nabokov, edited and translated by Olga Voronina and Brian Boyd.
Penguin, 798 pp., £30, September 2014, 978 0 14 119223 9
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... happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ (Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonsky). The implied proposition is that happy families are not much use to a novelist, and the next sentence confirms this view. ‘All was confusion in the Oblonskys’ house.’ Very promising. Throughout his life Vladimir Nabokov was keen to ...

The Village Life

James Meek: Pushkin in English, 6 June 2019

Novels, Tales, Journeys 
by Aleksandr Pushkin, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Penguin, 512 pp., £9.99, October 2017, 978 0 241 29037 8
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... introduction to Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin, which is included in Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s new translation of Pushkin’s prose, a friend of the deceased (fictional) writer, a neighbouring squire, says that after his death Belkin’s housekeeper ‘sealed all of her cottage windows with the first part of a novel he had left ...

Crabby, Prickly, Bitter, Harsh

Michael Wood: Tolstoy’s Malice, 22 May 2008

War and Peace 
by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Vintage, 1273 pp., £20, November 2007, 978 0 09 951223 3
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... she thought she felt herself’. ‘Thought she felt’ is downright surgical, and Pevear and Volokhonsky are not at all far from Constance Garnett’s ‘seemed to her she was feeling’. The new translation does play a role in this impression of ruthlessness, it turns out, since it harps a little on the words ‘spite’ and ‘spiteful’ where other ...

Tricky Minds

Michael Wood: Dostoevsky, 5 September 2002

Dostoevsky: The Mantle of the Prophet 1871-81 
by Joseph Frank.
Princeton, 784 pp., £24.95, May 2002, 0 691 08665 6
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... is a scoundrel, stupidity is direct and honest.’ This is the wording of Richard Pevear’s and Larissa Volokhonsky’s 1990 translation – the translation of the notes is by Edward Wasiolek. In David McDuff’s 1993 version we read: ‘The greater the stupidity, the greater the clarity. Stupidity is brief and guileless, while wit equivocates and ...

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