17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Pevear and Volokhonsky, 14 April 2009
First of all, the book itself. This is a nicely-bound hardback, with very clear black type on pure white paper - the clarity of the type and the whiteness of the paper both being important considerations when there are twelve hundred pages to get through! The biographical notes, chapter summaries and footnotes at the back are informative and accessible.
Now, the translation. I don't read Russian, so I can only judge it by how well it reads in English rather than by the degree of its fidelity to the original, so let's be clear: ninety-nine percent of this book is a joy to read. However, if you're prone to writing marginalia, this book will have you reaching for the pencil on quite a few occasions. I'm not talking about Americanisms (such as "fall" for "autumn") which are fine by me, but the doubtful choice of words here and there. For instance, when Rostov confronts a wolf close by some trees, we find:
> ...the wolf shook himself and made a move towards the timber which would save him.
Wood, trees, copse and forest all make sense in this context; "timber" does not. It sounds like the wolf has spotted a pile of firewood.
> "Ah, you cursed floor-scrubbers! Clean, fresh, as if from a promenade, not like us sinful army folk," Rostov said.
Other translations have "dandies" instead of "floor-scrubbers", which makes a lot more sense. Another page has Boris piling his checkers in a pyramid, but after he has knocked them to the floor, they have become "chessmen".
Pevear and Volokhonsky sometimes get their clauses in a muddle and the results are unclear:
> "One moment, one moment, don't come in, papa!" she cried to her father, who had opened the door, still under the gauze of her skirt, which covered her whole face.
(Natasha has a door under her skirt?)
> When Nikolai and his wife came looking for Pierre, he was in the nursery, holding his awakened nursling son on his enormous right palm, dandling him. A merry smile lingered on his broad face with its open, toothless mouth.
(Who has no teeth - Pierre or the baby?)
Some lines make almost no sense, though this may be Tolstoy's fault:
> Pfuel was of small stature, very thin, but broad-boned, of coarse, robust build, with broad hips and sharp shoulder blades.
All at once? Similarly, there are odd lapses in grammar and agreement. Three examples:
> For us descendants - who are not historians...
> This sort of guests and members sat in their known, habitual places, and met together in known, habitual circles.
> In their attitude towards him, doubt could still be felt of who he was...
Of course these are exceptions and in a book this long it would be surprising if there weren't a few slips. Nevertheless, I feel an obligation to lay them out for the benefit of those trying to decide which translation of War and Peace to buy. I repeat - this is an excellent read for the most part and God only knows how much work went into it. Pevear and Volokhonsky are to be congratulated for scaling the mountain, but all the same, I did find the duff lines hard to ignore, so here is a final batch of oddities:
> A tallow candle stood on a baluster, melting in the wind.
> The entering man was wearing dark blue tailcoat, a cross on his neck, and a star on the left side of his chest.
> "Grounds of personal ambition, perhaps," Speransky quietly put in his word.
> Pierre sniffed silently, looking at her.
> He saw not her marble beauty, which made one with her gown, he saw and sensed all the loveliness of her body, which was merely covered by clothes.
> "Snort...snort..." snorted Prince Nikolai Andreich.
> His eyes were looking at the entering women.
> The husband, a short, stoop-shouldered man in a civil uniform with wheel-shaped side-whiskers and smooth temples...
> Princess Marya and Natasha, as always, came together in the bedroom.