Enchanting Chaos.

Alexander Grin is a writer like no other; his most famous work is Алые паруса (Scarlet Sails), but he wrote scads of wonderful stories, and Geoff Cebula has translated a little chiller, Волшебное безобразие, as Enchanting Chaos. It begins:

This city used to be packed with people, each good for at least one extraordinarily strange story, if not several. Some of these people died long ago, yet when I pass through the cemetery my nose can tell the precise graves in which their former bodies rest after living through a trying stretch of bizarre experiences. I recall their names, how they looked, the way they used to cough or extract their cigarettes.

To this day, an old courier stands at the corner of Miscue-Miscreance and Herbivory, having destroyed his youth and the beautiful home life he shared with his beloved wife by taking it upon himself one day to procure a caged bird without pay. This task was given to him by a beautiful young woman dressed elegantly and aromatically. Though the courier was himself a heartbreaker, married only recently to a sweet but restless blonde, this young woman was of exceptional beauty. He felt stricken in the heart. This fiery-eyed beauty didn’t happen to have any money on hand. “Listen here,” said the courier. “I’m just an ordinary guy, miss, but allow me do you this service for free.”

“Thank you,” she answered simply, with a smile—and her smile imbued the courier’s flustered soul with an incendiary gleam of joyful excitement.

I won’t tell you how it ends. I will say that while I admire “at the corner of Miscue-Miscreance and Herbivory” for “На углу Кикса Кисляйства и Травоедения,” I don’t like the translation of the title: безобразие can mean ‘ugliness’ or ‘outrage, scandal, disgrace,’ but ‘chaos’ doesn’t work for me. I’m not sure how to improve it, though; maybe “Ugly Enchantment”?


  1. Mystic Mess

  2. безобразие — ‘ugliness’ is a bit literal, but wide usage; ‘outrage, scandal, disgrace’ feels a bit old by now (but probably appropriate for Grin’s times); ‘chaos, mess, mischief’ is meaning in the (IMHO) most widely used context of “что за безобразие?” (“what is this mess?”)

  3. OK, fair enough, but still, it’s post-Grin and doesn’t seem to me to have anything to do with the story (although it’s true that birds are messy).

  4. He didn’t procure the bird without a pay, but delivered it. At least, that’s how I understood it.

    “Ugly Enchantment” works for me.

  5. The Fateful Snare… Snared by Enchantment… Beguiled by Enchantment… Treacherous Beguilement…

    Will depend on the story…

  6. Wicked Beguilement? I’m hard put to understand the nuance that needs to be conveyed.

  7. Pelevin: The final truth Russian man always report obscenities.
    Grin as an ethnic Polish and romantic writer uses many colourful words.

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