Author Topic: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?  (Read 796 times)

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Offline Sawyer

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Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« on: May 12, 2018, 03:43:34 PM »
So I somehow came across the musical Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet* recently, which is based on part of the book War and Peace.  I was intrigued by the bits of the story I could piece together, and thought maybe I should finally buckle down and try some Russian literature.  Then I discovered War and Peace was not merely a 700 page behemoth of a book, but is nearly twice that size.  Should I put myself through a summer of pain?  Are there other Russian authors I should try instead before tackling Tolstoy? 

I have a few other torturous books on my reading list I should get input about, but I'll just stick with this question for now.




*Clearly it was not a result of a butterflies-in-the-stomach schoolboy crush on Phillipa Soo.

Offline brilligtove

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2018, 09:20:52 PM »
I loathe classic Russian lit. LOATHE. Ugh.
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Offline fuzzyMarmot

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2018, 10:20:26 PM »
I'd give "The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them" by Elif Batuman a read. That might hook you into reading W&P or another one of those huge novels.

Slate Academy featured "a year of great books", which included podcast discussions and supplementary reading. One of their selections was The Brothers Karamazov. That was the motivation I needed to finally read it.
« Last Edit: May 12, 2018, 11:31:22 PM by fuzzyMarmot »

Offline Tassie Dave

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2018, 10:30:30 PM »
I've read thousands of books since I bought "War and Peace" in the early 80s.

I have started W&P several times, but quit early on as it is so hard to get into and it's so fucking boring  ;)
I have heard that other translations are better than the one I have, (I have the Aylmer and Louise Maude (1922–23) version) or at least different.

I know I will never read it now. Life is too short and there are too many better books  8)

Offline Sawyer

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2018, 10:30:39 PM »
Thanks for all the input!  Since there's no ringing endorsements, I'm putting my plan on hold for now.  Might eventually try Dostoyevsky instead.

Offline brilligtove

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2018, 11:30:10 PM »
Thanks for all the input!  Since there's no ringing endorsements, I'm putting my plan on hold for now.  Might eventually try Dostoyevsky instead.
Such ugh.

So blhergh.

In my (limited) experience Russian lit is a relentless grind, designed to express the utterly meaningless and painful nature of existence. Then you finish the prologue, and the real torment starts. If you're not clear on 'relentless grind' think the modern news cycle with your eyelids sewn open.
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Offline arthwollipot

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2018, 12:58:47 AM »
I have started W&P several times, but quit early on as it is so hard to get into and it's so fucking boring  ;)
I got about 14 chapters in, but then I realised that nothing had happened in all that time and gave up.
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Offline Rai

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2018, 01:25:41 AM »
Russian literature is just so good. Just don't start with Tolstoy... go for Chekov's and Pushkin's short stories or Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.

Gogol's plays and short srories are also great.

Dostoevsky is harder, but worth the effort. I especially love the fiery, if flawed Humiliated and Insulted.

If you really want Tolstoy, go for Anna Karenina, first and if you are done, and you kiked it, you are ready for War and Peace.

Offline Mo4O11

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2018, 04:10:43 AM »
Russian literature is just so good. Just don't start with Tolstoy... go for Chekov's and Pushkin's short stories or Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.

Gogol's plays and short srories are also great.

Dostoevsky is harder, but worth the effort. I especially love the fiery, if flawed Humiliated and Insulted.

If you really want Tolstoy, go for Anna Karenina, first and if you are done, and you kiked it, you are ready for War and Peace.
I absolutely agree with you about Chekov's short stories or Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.
I also recommend Sergei Dovlatov. His best works are "The Compromise" and "The Zone: A Prison Camp Guard's Story".

Offline daniel1948

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2018, 07:57:04 AM »
Didn't see this thread before because I was out of town and off line.

First off: Don't read any book you find tedious or boring. What would be the point? I was forced to read Crime and Punishment in school and despised it. A few years later decided to try The Idiot and could not get past the first few pages. Tried again a couple of years later. On my third or fourth attempt, I picked up the book and simply could not put it down. I was completely engrossed, and loved it. All but the long and boring section where the sick kid whose name slips my mind writes his mind-numbingly dull "explanation." Later I read Crime and Punishment when I was not being forced to for class, and I enjoyed it. I absolutely loved The Brothers Karamazov.

The Idiot (Dostoyevsky) is about a young man with epilepsy who returns home to Russia after years of treatment in Switzerland. On the train going home he meets a man also returning home to claim his inheritance, who tells him a story of how he stole money from his now-deceased father to buy an extravagant gift for a beautiful woman. The lives of all three, Myshkin, the title character, who's also a prince, though princes in those days were a dime a dozen, Rogozhin, the man on the train, and Nastasya Philipovna Barashkov, the woman, become completely entangled.

I read and enjoyed War and Peace, as well as Anna Karenina. But I find the Bronte sisters incredibly dull, demonstrating that you don't have to be Russian to write dull books.

One of my favorites is Pushkin's The Queen of Spades. But I cannot read his poetry. Ask any Russian and they will tell you he's the greatest poet ever, so it's clearly that it just cannot be translated. Translation is a tricky business. I could name wonderful, marvelous books in Spanish whose English translations are unreadable.

Bottom line, there is some wonderful Russian literature, but if you force yourself to read it you'll hate it. Pick up a book and if it doesn't grab you in the first few pages put it down and try again in a couple of years.
Daniel
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Offline Rai

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2018, 08:10:42 AM »
One of my favorites is Pushkin's The Queen of Spades. But I cannot read his poetry. Ask any Russian and they will tell you he's the greatest poet ever, so it's clearly that it just cannot be translated. Translation is a tricky business. I could name wonderful, marvelous books in Spanish whose English translations are unreadable.

Queen of Spades is so good!

So much that Dostoevsky nicked a large part of it for Crime and Punishment :)


Offline random poet

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2018, 01:34:32 PM »
I read a lot of Russians about ten years ago. Read Anna Karenina for a related translation I was working on. I found War and Peace well worth the time. But Dostoyevsky is probably my favourite from that period. I read most of his novels. The Brothers Karamasov is great, but you could look into his short novels as well, they are good and require less time investment, if you are unsure. I read all of Chekov's theatre, and found it a bit stilted; I wish I could see it all on stage instead. His fiction is better, on the page. I am still waiting for a good translation of Pushkin, haha. Hopefully André Markovicz will get on that. Waitaminute, I just googled it, and his translations have come out when I wasn't paying attention. Welp, looks like I know what I'll be reading asap.
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #12 on: August 31, 2018, 02:42:16 PM »
I read a lot of Russians about ten years ago. Read Anna Karenina for a related translation I was working on. I found War and Peace well worth the time. But Dostoyevsky is probably my favourite from that period. I read most of his novels. The Brothers Karamasov is great, but you could look into his short novels as well, they are good and require less time investment, if you are unsure. I read all of Chekov's theatre, and found it a bit stilted; I wish I could see it all on stage instead. His fiction is better, on the page. I am still waiting for a good translation of Pushkin, haha. Hopefully André Markovicz will get on that. Waitaminute, I just googled it, and his translations have come out when I wasn't paying attention. Welp, looks like I know what I'll be reading asap.

I cannot find these. Are they available on Kindle? All I can find on line are his translations into French.
Daniel
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-- Otto von Bismarck

Offline random poet

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #13 on: August 31, 2018, 02:49:56 PM »
I read a lot of Russians about ten years ago. Read Anna Karenina for a related translation I was working on. I found War and Peace well worth the time. But Dostoyevsky is probably my favourite from that period. I read most of his novels. The Brothers Karamasov is great, but you could look into his short novels as well, they are good and require less time investment, if you are unsure. I read all of Chekov's theatre, and found it a bit stilted; I wish I could see it all on stage instead. His fiction is better, on the page. I am still waiting for a good translation of Pushkin, haha. Hopefully André Markovicz will get on that. Waitaminute, I just googled it, and his translations have come out when I wasn't paying attention. Welp, looks like I know what I'll be reading asap.

I cannot find these. Are they available on Kindle? All I can find on line are his translations into French.
Hahah, sorry, yes, I was talking about French versions.

I'm not sure what's the state of the art of English translations of classical Russian. As of 10 years ago, the academic opinion was that nobody was translating Dostoyevsky properly except that French guy.
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Offline daniel1948

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Re: Russian Literature - Yea or Nay?
« Reply #14 on: August 31, 2018, 05:45:44 PM »
I read a lot of Russians about ten years ago. Read Anna Karenina for a related translation I was working on. I found War and Peace well worth the time. But Dostoyevsky is probably my favourite from that period. I read most of his novels. The Brothers Karamasov is great, but you could look into his short novels as well, they are good and require less time investment, if you are unsure. I read all of Chekov's theatre, and found it a bit stilted; I wish I could see it all on stage instead. His fiction is better, on the page. I am still waiting for a good translation of Pushkin, haha. Hopefully André Markovicz will get on that. Waitaminute, I just googled it, and his translations have come out when I wasn't paying attention. Welp, looks like I know what I'll be reading asap.

I cannot find these. Are they available on Kindle? All I can find on line are his translations into French.
Hahah, sorry, yes, I was talking about French versions.

I'm not sure what's the state of the art of English translations of classical Russian. As of 10 years ago, the academic opinion was that nobody was translating Dostoyevsky properly except that French guy.

Thank you for the clarification. I enjoy the novels for the stories they tell. But the best writing tells an interesting story in artful language, and it's hard to get that in translation. The few times I've looked at the English translation of a novel I enjoyed in Spanish, the English version has been unreadable. I'd say those Russians were great writers indeed when even the translations can be enjoyable. But a better translation would be much appreciated.

And based on the universal opinion of apparently every literate Russian in the world, those of us who cannot read Pushkin in Russian are missing something wonderful.
Daniel
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"Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think long and hard before starting a war."
-- Otto von Bismarck

 

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