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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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... observed 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 ...

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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... Nobel Prize in 1958; and then bullied into refusing it after all. His second telegram, cited by Richard Pevear in his introduction to this new translation, said: ‘In view of the meaning attributed to this award in the society to which I belong, I must refuse the undeserved prize that has been bestowed on me. Do not take my voluntary rejection with ...
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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... trust in the triumph of poetry, imagination, the free word, over terror and oppression’, as Richard Pevear says in his Introduction to the Penguin text? Both critics go on to say that Bulgakov knew that manuscripts do burn, since he had burned some of his own. But surely the splendour and bravura of the line rely not on the actual combustibility ...

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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... In Pushkin’s 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 ...

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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... Isaac Babel said, ‘it would write like Tolstoy.’ The remark is quoted at the head of Richard Pevear’s introduction to this handsome new translation of War and Peace. I should like to think Babel meant that if the world was given to intricate thematic contrasts and parallels among its materials, to careful cross-cutting between city and ...

Kinks on the Kinks

Michael Wood: Plots

4 May 2016
Plots 
by Robert Belknap.
Columbia, 165 pp., £22, May 2016, 978 0 231 17782 5
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... though there were 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 ...

Dear Poochums

Michael Wood: Letters to Véra

22 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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... family, as in: ‘All 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 ...

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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... hedges and hides. Reason 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 ...

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