I meant to post this months ago, but efficiency is not my strong suit: perennial LH favorite Boris Dralyuk has an LARB review of Oliver Ready’s translation of Crime and Punishment, and it includes the kind of detailed analysis of passages I crave:
The challenges that this polyphony poses to a translator are staggering. The brave soul must shuttle back and forth between the gestalt — the great unwieldy whole — and its parts, sinking into scenes of violence and casual terror, into fever dreams, into the dramas — little and big — of conversations in tenements and police stations. Ready, who has a practiced ear for Russian dialect and a natural grace with English, is exceptionally deft at navigating these challenges. I’ll point to one instance in which a translator must take note of a number of elements (the structure of dream logic, the use of dialect and folkloric reference, and vividness of imagery) and be honest to them all without bursting the reader’s suspension of disbelief — without, as it were, waking the reader up. In Part I, Chapter 5, Raskolnikov dreams of a scene from childhood — a cart-driver has overloaded his cart with passengers and is beating his nag, urging her to move when she clearly can’t manage:
“Daddy! Daddy!” he shouts to his father. “What are they doing, Daddy? Daddy, they’re beating the poor little horse!”
“Come on, boy!” says the father. “Just drunken idiots fooling around: off we go, boy, don’t look!” — and tries to lead him away, but he breaks free of his grasp and, quite beside himself, runs to the horse. But the poor little horse is in a bad way. She’s struggling for breath, stops, gives another tug and almost falls.
“Flog ‘er till she drops!” shouts Mikolka. “She’s asking for it. I’ll flog ‘er dead!”
“Where’s your fear of God, you mad beast?” yells an old man in the crowd.
A great deal goes right in Ready’s treatment of this nightmare, which continues for another two pages. The father’s pained and abashed dismissal, “Just drunken idiots fooling around,” which he delivers in choked-off fragments in Russian (“пьяные, шалят, дураки”), sounds far fresher and produces a far more poignant effect than previous efforts: “They are drunken and foolish, they are in fun” (Constance Garnett, 1914); “They’re drunk, playing mischief, the fools” (David McDuff, 1991); “They’re drunk, they’re playing pranks, the fools” (Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, 1992). “They are in fun,” is, of course, hopelessly dated, while “playing mischief” and “pranks,” though close translations of the verb “шалить,” are not really appropriate to the situation or to the father’s register or mental state.
The “mad beast,” too, is an inspired choice. The Russian original has the old man calling Mikolka a “леший (leshii),” that is, a “wood demon” — a creature from the Russian pagan past, which worked its way into the syncretic faith of the village but, by the 19th century, was, for the most part, an element of idiomatic speech. For instance, to send someone to the wood demon is to send them to hell. Under certain circumstances, where the wood demon’s attributes are central to the exposition of a scene, a translator might want to preserve his presence — but here, where he is very much part of an idiom, suggesting wildness and inhumanity, Ready’s rendition works perfectly, allowing us to speed through the passage nervously, just as we ought to.
There’s much more at the link, but that gives you an idea. From now on, when people ask me what translation I suggest reading, I’ll know what to say. (By the way, Dralyuk is preparing for publication a collection of translations of Russian prose and verse reacting to the year 1917; I’ll be reporting on it in due course.)