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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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... 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 see a line leading from ‘Lady Macbeth’ to a possible future of Chekhovian prose. A pessimistic-realistic view of human behaviour, transcending class stereotypes; beauty, brutality and banality incised with precision ...


John Sutherland, 2 October 1980

Copyright: Intellectual Property in the Information Age 
by Edward Ploman and L. Clark Hamilton.
Routledge, 248 pp., £12.50, September 1980, 0 7100 0539 3
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... In his essay on Nikolai Leskov, Walter Benjamin observes, almost in passing, that the novel inevitably brings about the end or storytelling. Like many of Benjamin’s paradoxes, this insight is very unsettling to the received idea – oh dear no, the novel doesn’t tell a story after all. Benjamin’s reasoning runs thus: the story (the only current example would be the dirty joke, I imagine) has no identifiable single author and is transmitted face to face ...

Kafka’s Dog

P.N. Furbank, 13 November 1997

The Treasure Chest 
by Johann Peter Hebel, translated by John Hibberd.
Libris/Penguin, 175 pp., £19.95, May 1995, 0 14 044639 7
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... to our feet.’ Walter Benjamin, in his essay ‘The Story-teller: Reflections on the Works of Nikolai Leskov’, has an appealing remark: ‘There is nothing that commends a story to memory more effectively than that chaste compactness which precludes psychological analysis.’ It comes to mind when one reads the most famous of Hebel’s ...

Why Sakhalin?

Joseph Frank: Charting Chekhov’s career, 17 February 2005

Chekhov: Scenes from a Life 
by Rosamund Bartlett.
Free Press, 395 pp., £20, July 2004, 0 7432 3074 4
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Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters 
translated by Rosamund Bartlett and Anthony Phillips.
Penguin, 552 pp., £12.99, June 2004, 0 14 044922 1
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... knowledge of Russian Orthodoxy that surfaces again and again in his works and that perhaps only Nikolai Leskov could match. Chekhov called Leskov ‘my favourite writer’ in a letter after the two had first met, and quotes the half-drunken Leskov as having said: ‘Thee I anoint ...

The Politics of Translation

Marina Warner: Translate this!, 11 October 2018

This Little Art 
by Kate Briggs.
Fitzcarraldo, 365 pp., £12.99, September 2017, 978 1 910695 45 6
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Translation as Transhumance 
by Mireille Gansel, translated by Ros Schwartz.
Les Fugitives, 150 pp., £10, November 2017, 978 0 9930093 3 4
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Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto 
by Mark Polizzotti.
MIT, 168 pp., £17.99, May 2018, 978 0 262 03799 0
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The 100 Best Novels in Translation 
by Boyd Tonkin.
Galileo, 304 pp., £14.99, June 2018, 978 1 903385 67 8
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The Work of Literary Translation 
by Clive Scott.
Cambridge, 285 pp., £75, June 2018, 978 1 108 42682 4
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... of poems, spattering the page like Dada scores. I was reminded of a gleefully absurdist story by Nikolai Leskov called ‘The Steel Flea: The Tale of the Cross-Eyed Left-Handed Gunsmith from Tula in Russia’, which first appeared in 1881. When English armourers present the Russian emperor with a microscopic steel flea that dances, the Russians surpass ...

A Snack before I Die

James Wood, 21 August 1997

Anton Chekhov: A Life 
by Donald Rayfield.
HarperCollins, 674 pp., £25, June 1997, 0 00 255503 4
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... happiness. There are eight rules by which ‘well-bred people’ live, he told his brother Nikolai in a long letter. You restrain yourself sexually; you do not brag. ‘The truly gifted are always in the shadows, in the crowd, far from exhibitions.’ The last line of this letter has always been soothed into English as ‘You have to relinquish your ...

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