A strange, choppy essay by Murray Bail that’s ostensibly a review of the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of Anna Karenina (and if you’re going to call yourself Volokhonsky instead of Volokhonskaya, why Karenina rather than the Karenin Nabokov was so keen on? but I digress) but is really a series of thoughts on literature and translation. It’s tricked out with a nutty false dichotomy between “Europe” and “English or American culture,” and it comes to a stop without actually ending, but there are enough nice bits along the way it’s worth a read:
It is only a matter of time in a Russian novel before a sturgeon arrives on a plate, a “fine sturgeon” or a “large sturgeon”. It is like the appearance of bicycles in Irish novels, or the dog wagging its tail in every other Tom Roberts painting. The sturgeon makes its entrance on a plate held by an old footman in a greasy shirt. At other times a landlord of an inn brings the fish half cold to a filthy table. At a rundown estate a traveller is ushered into the presence of the impoverished landowner, tucking into a local sturgeon (Gogol). Russian characters have healthy appetites. They’ve been travelling on bad roads, in badly sprung carriages. In the 1950s, in Adelaide, reading about “black bread” sounded not tasty at all, but peasant-poor, positively wretched; in a Russian novel it coloured the domestic scene – made it extra-foreign. Where else in literature do you find a languid landowner pondering a pleasantly wasted life, while at the same time reaching out, as if for another slice of sturgeon, for some essential, life-saving truth?
(Via wood s lot.)