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R. H. Chandler (London England)

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Russian Folktales from the Collection of A. Afanasyev: A Dual-Language Book (Dover Dual Language Russian)
Russian Folktales from the Collection of A. Afanasyev: A Dual-Language Book (Dover Dual Language Russian)
by Sergey Levchin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.49

5.0 out of 5 stars A fun and effective way to improve your Russian, 30 Jun 2014
I often say to students of Russian that there is no better way to develop a feel for the Russian language - and, above all, for the difficult but expressive Russian verb - than by reading Russsian folktales. This is the perfect volume for that purpose. The translations adhere closely to the syntax of the original and so constitute a perfect guide to understanding the Russian. And Afanasyev's collection of Russian folk tales is also of extraordinary interest in itself. Along with the Brothers Grimm, and Italo Calvino's collection of Italian folktales, it is one of the greatest monuments to the oral folktale that we possess.

The Dead Lake
The Dead Lake
by Hamid Ismailov
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable short novel that brings together poetry, Soviet history, Central Asian traditions and environmental concerns, 28 Mar 2014
This review is from: The Dead Lake (Paperback)
The Dead Lake (originally titled Wunderkind Yerzhan or a small man from a Big Country) is set in Kazakhstan, near what was for 40 years the main Soviet test site for atomic weapons at Semipalatinsk.
The narrator is on a long train journey across the Kazakh steppe. He starts talking to Yerzhan, a violinist who is busking on the train. The narrator takes Yerzhan for a 12-year-old, but Yerzhan insists he is 27. Yerzhan then goes on to tell his story, which is sometimes interrupted by the narrator's reflections on it. Towards the end of the novella there are some pages where the narrator falls asleep at night and dreams a continuation of Yerzhan's story. Eventually the narrator awakes and we return to the real story.
The novella is clearly told and may well appeal to readers who felt overwhelmed by the extravagant complexity of the Railway. Nevertheless, it is not as simple as it may first appear. Hamid succeeds in bringing together several different strands: recent history, folktale and myth, the everyday life of simple people living in a remote railway settlement in Soviet times. The novella has a delightful flow and organic unity.
The central tragedy is that, when he reaches the age of 12, Yerzhan suddenly completely stops growing. But the girl next door, whom he loves and who is a year younger than him, continues to grows taller and comes to seem more and more unattainable. Friends and relatives try different ways to help Yerzhan: magic, modern medicine, etc - but nothing makes any difference. It is clear to the reader - though not to any of the characters - that Yerzhan has been irrevocably damaged by swimming one evening in a lake of radioactive water in "the Zone". On that evening the "forbidden water" seemed to have a fairytale beauty.
One of the most remarkable features of the book is the convincingness with which Hamid evokes both the extraordinary violence of the nuclear tests, and their “everydayness”. A prefatory note tells us that 468 nuclear tests were carried out in this area over 4 decades - about one a month, and all of them very close indeed to inhabited towns and villages. There are sudden massive explosions while Yerzhan and his mates are at school, while people are riding across the steppe on a donkey, while Yerzhan is on a train... Buildings and trains are destroyed, but people just pick themselves up and get on with their lives...
I gave the Russian version of this to my old friend, Igor Golomstock, a Russian art critic whose judgments are usually very severe. He wote back, “I enjoyed Hamid’s novella very much. It is a poem, similar in tone to the work of Andrey Platonov – but Hamid has given it his own particular Central Asian colouring.”

Vladislav Khodasevich: Selected Poems
Vladislav Khodasevich: Selected Poems
by Vladislav Khodasevich
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the very finest volumes of Russian poetry in English, 16 Jan 2014
Greatly admired by Nabokov, Khodasevich is one of the greatest Russian poets of the last century. And in the words of Professor G.S, Smith in the TLS, "Peter Daniels and Angel Books have given us an English Khodasevich worthy of his stature."

A Scent of Winter
A Scent of Winter
by Angela Kirby
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and graceful, 21 Nov 2013
This review is from: A Scent of Winter (Paperback)
Angela Kirby knows how to tell a story. She writes about a variety of themes, often with great wit and grace. The most moving of all her poems, though, is "How it is" a short, very simple poem about the death of a young soldier in Afghanistan. Here she is (almost) unable to find words for what is (almost) beyond her understanding. The poem ends:
Dear God, there seems
so little now to show for it all
nothing but a rolled-up flag
a scatter of flags, a bugle call
this shock of fresh-dug earth.

The White Fire of Time
The White Fire of Time
by Ellen Hinsey
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Graceful, truthful, memorable, 19 Jan 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The White Fire of Time (Paperback)
This is a remarkable book. Every word has been thought through and felt through. As with Hinsey's later Update on the Descent, I often felt as if I were reading some ancient sacred text. The only way to substantiate such claims is through quotation. So here are a few extracts from one of the finest poems, "Commentary: on the 13 Rungs of Sorrow".

You wake to day's knowledge as Noah to the flood.

The Trial:
There is no trial; but suddenly unworthy, you beg for forgiveness. None is forthcoming.

The Plea of Innocence:
You seek out your own shadow; in desperation run after what you once were - after a grace of unknowing. [...]

Still, at moments, radiance. You learn that the body in grief is privileged, and called to enter, in its rags, the immaculate garden of compassion."

The phrase, `a grace of unknowing', is typical of Hinsey at her best: sharp, paradoxical, and psychologically truthful. And the last section exemplifies Hinsey's ability to allow moments of redemptive beauty to emerge, as if of their own accord, from meditations on darkness and suffering.

Collected Poems
Collected Poems
by Michael Longley
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memorable grace, 7 Jan 2013
This review is from: Collected Poems (Paperback)
Some of these poems are as perfect as any short lyrics in the English language. In the four lines of PRAYER Longley achieves a rare grace. Like the snowflakes in the poem, each of his words falls in the right place, and as if without effort on his part:

In our country they are desecrating churches.
May the rain that pours in pour into the font.
Because no snowflake ever falls in the wrong place,
May snow lie on the altar like an altar cloth.

The translations from Greek and Latin are no less remarkable.

Update on the Descent
Update on the Descent
by Ellen Hinsey
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.23

5.0 out of 5 stars Concentrated intelligence, 6 Jan 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Update on the Descent (Paperback)
Many passages in this book read like extracts from some ancient book of wisdom literature - so dense with meaning that you at once want to memorise them.
Hinsey's one-page summary of the last book of the Iliad - Priam's nighttime visit to Achilles to recover his son's dead body - is remarkable. Much though I would like to quote this in full, I will limit myself to the last two paragraphs:
`And how the warrior ... in sudden compassion took hold of the old man's wrists, and in words drawn up from grief's sharp abyss, vowed to return his son's body - even in its lifelessness. And how, there, side by side, in night's closed vault, in a commonality of breath and skin, the two mature men wept - each for his own.
While under each word the ceaseless river of revenge flowed.'
`A Concise Biography of Tyranny' is no less remarkable. Its last sentence - `The mystery is why one finds, time and again, flowers on its grave' - is painfully pertinent to today's Russia and the nostalgic reverence with which so many people look on Stalin.
Hinsey's concise, lapidary wit can take your breath away. Here is the fifth of the twelve `Aphorisms Regarding Impatience': `The Attraction of the Apocalypse: To control with absolute certainty one thing. And for it to be the last.'

Three Men on the Metro
Three Men on the Metro
by Andy Croft
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty and wonderful, 27 Nov 2012
This review is from: Three Men on the Metro (Paperback)
British interest in things Russian goes in waves. At the time of our wartime alliance with Stalin, during Khrushchev's "Thaw" and during the Gorbachev era, people couldn't hear enough about Russia. But these periods of excitement about Russia are always followed by periods of disillusion during which we don't really want to hear about Russia at all. We are, unfortunately, in one of these periods now - which is why this book has received so little attention. THREE MEN ON THE METRO is beautifully written. Its wit and grace make it easy to read, but it is the fruit of a great deal of real, serious, perceptive thought. Here are 12 lines from Andy Crawford's Epilogue:
Here myth and magic mix with the mundane.
Before the last train out tonight departs
Sretensky Bul'var, the night-shift starts
To sweep the midnight Metro catacombs,
A regiment of witches with their brooms.
A Bilibin-like babushka stands facing
The question, 'Russia, whither art thou racing?'
(Dead Souls Part I) inscribed upon the wall.
She gives no answers, though she's heard them all.
She's seen the future and it works long hours.
The present is a bunch of crumpled flowers
And History is a drunk who's misssed the train.

Phaedra: A Drama in Verse; with 'New Year's Letter' and Other Long Poems
Phaedra: A Drama in Verse; with 'New Year's Letter' and Other Long Poems
by Marina TSvetaeva
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding translation, 30 Jun 2012
In her introduction to her translation of this verse-drama, Angela Livingstone quotes these lines from an account of Antiope (the Amazon Queen) in battle:
Taking aim, not just with eye and
elbow but with every pulsing
vein, aiming her whole, aimed,
body, equal of men - no: equal
of gods (her never-used-up quiver
fuller than a horn of plenty ),
radiant under the foe's arrows,
there she stood - afraid of nothing.
Livingstone contines, `Although about fighting, this speech could well be seen as offering an analogy for the absorption and rapture of the creative process. Again and again Tsvetaeva found words to express the supreme happiness of absorption in creation.' Both here and in her earlier translation of THE RATCATCHER (Tsvetaeva's version of the story of the Piped Piper of Hamlyn), Livingstone succeeds in conveying the pulsing vitality of Tsvetaeva's verse; every word is well-aimed. Along with Stanley Mitchell's translation of EUGENE ONEGIN, these are the finest translations of any long poems from Russian.

Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse (Penguin Classics)
Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse (Penguin Classics)
by Alexander Pushkin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best translations into English of any long poem from any language, 23 Dec 2011
Nearly every Russian sees Pushkin as their country's greatest writer. This perception, however, is not shared by many foreigners. The problem, of course, is translation. Pushkin's verse is supremely elegant, witty and musical. Few, if any, great poets are harder to translate.

Charles Johnston's version is not at all bad, and conveys much of Pushkin's wit - though not his lyricism. James Falen's version (Oxford World's Classics) is better still. Stanley Mitchells's long-awaited version (just published by Penguin Classics (2008) is truly outstanding. I enjoyed it every bit as much as the original - something I would never have believed possible. It deserves ten stars!

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