Thursday, November 19, 2009

Translating Tolstoy

Earlier today I came across Translating Tolstoy: an interview with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the husband-and-wife duo behind some of the most beautiful translations of the Russian classics in the last couple of decades. Oh, my! I thought. These two are the superstars of mix-breeders!

Mr. Pevear, 66 years old, was born in Waltham, Mass., and initially translated works from French and Italian. His wife was born in Leningrad, Russia, and emigrated to Israel in 1973, where she lived for two years. The couple met in the United States in 1976 and married six years later. They've been translating books together since 1986. Ms. Volokhonsky provides the first translation of each work, with running commentary on the author's style; her husband works from that draft to render his own version. They then confer and work on that text together.

The interview is obviously focused on their work but as I was reading it I kept recognizing familiar patterns of interaction:

WSJ: How do you resolve your differences over the work, and do disagreements ever spill over into your personal life?

Ms. Volokhonsky: Richard is a native speaker of English. I'm a native speaker of Russian. My task is to explain to Richard what is happening in the Russian text. Then it is up to him to do what he can. The final word is always his. I can say this is not quite what the Russian says. Either he finds something that satisfies me or he says no, this is how we're going to do it. We discuss endlessly and sometimes it becomes a nuisance because we return to it again and again even after the manuscript goes off. But we really don't quarrel. It would be much more interesting if we did.

Kyle and I do that too. When I am moved or offended by an article, an email, or a comment on my other blog that was originally written in Bulgarian, I translate it to Kyle. Then: explain, explain, explain, go back and forth, explain. We do quarrel sometimes, though, and it definitely IS interesting.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi. You write very well. I enjoyed reading your blog especially this one. I can see you have interests in Classic books and Russian Literature. We share the same interest. More power to you!