The latest NY Times Book Review features one of the best translation comparisons I’ve seen, Masha Gessen’s “Found in Translation.” She starts off analyzing in detail a scene in Anna Karenina in which Anna is watching her lover, Vronsky, watch her, and the ways in which four translations — by Constance Garnett, Pevear/Volokhonsky, Rosamund Bartlett, and Marian Schwartz — handle the word choices involved. Here’s a sample:
Surprisingly, all the translators ruled that the part of Anna’s anatomy that she believed repelled, repulsed, disgusted or offended Vronsky was her hand and not her arm, though the Russian word ruka can mean either. I happen to think Tolstoy is writing about the arm — one of those two full arms that were so beguilingly set off by the black gown Anna wore to the ball in Part 1, Chapter 22, when she and Vronsky fell in love. Now, in Part 7, Chapter 25, when Anna lifts her coffee cup, the full arm, the pinkie gesture and the noisy lips form a tragic triangle. On the subject of the lips, the two newer translations hew closer to the original Russian on the issue of the intentionality of the sound that Anna thinks annoys her lover: Tolstoy makes it clear that it is Anna making a sound with her lips, not her lips making an involuntary sound. Like the extended little finger, this is a habit that Vronsky may once have found charming — in fact, he may still, for, Anna’s jealousy and fears notwithstanding, he still loves her — but she thinks he no longer does.
Her native knowledge of Russian combines with her well-honed literary sensibilities to produce an essay which will give any reader interesting thoughts about the novel and about how translation works, not to mention useful tips about the four versions she compares. The whole thing is well worth your time. (Thanks, Eric!)
And a very happy new year to those of you who follow the Gregorian calendar; to anyone who is still using the pre-Petrine Russian Orthodox calendar, dated from the creation of the world in 5509 BC, I hope the year 7523 is going well for you!