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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A First Rate Package, 28 May 2013
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Lost John (Devon, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories (Vintage Classics) (Hardcover)
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk - The Sealed Angel - The Enchanted Wanderer - Singlemind - The Devil-Chase - Deathless Golovan - The White Eagle - A Flaming Patriot - Lefty - The Spirit of Madame de Genlis - The Toupee Artist - The Voice of Nature - A Little Mistake - The Pearl Necklace - The Spook - The Man on Watch - A Robbery

I am a great Leskov fan, already possessing all his writing in English translation that I have been able to obtain, and have previously read six of the seventeen stories here, including all but one of the six longer ones. Nevertheless, re-reading those stories, even side-by-side with a slightly different translation, is no chore, and it was of course a delight to discover the eleven stories that were new to me.

The volume includes Leskov's best known story (thanks to Shostakovich's opera), Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and his masterpiece, Lefty (The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea). Those are neither difficult nor expensive to obtain elsewhere Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (Hesperus Classics) and Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida (Penguin Classics). Perhaps it was a good move, therefore, to title this new translation after the slightly less well-known The Enchanted Wanderer, which (because the stories are ordered according to date of first publication) happens to be the third story in the book, and is also the longest story included here.

Leskov's most noted qualities as a writer are the authenticity of his descriptions of rural and urban Russia, and the language that he puts into the mouths of the unprivileged of Tsarist times; peasants, serfs and others. This includes occasions when they hit on the wrong word, sometimes hilariously (but a major challenge for a translator), or make up words (such as romanticness) that we understand readily enough but are not found in a dictionary. He is also good at taking on their point of view, expressing how they see all manner of things, from natural phenomena to the ways of the gentry. In The Spook (Selivan the Bogeyman) he takes this one further, narrating his own experience as an eight year old, written down after he attained adulthood. Thus the child's view, with all its naivety, credulousness and subjection to elders ranging from parents to house serfs, is presented in a mildly satirical tone, mocking his own juvenile self quite as much as anyone else.

Whilst Leskov's stories were intended to entertain, and no doubt also to earn money, his empathy for the less-fortunate was, for his time, very liberal, even reformist. He was on the same side as Tolstoy on the issues of better housing, education and healthcare for the peasantry, and abhorred the corrupt and exploitative practices of many Russian Orthodox clergy. In Lefty, superficially one big joke, he slips in this description of the condition of English gunsmiths, "Each of their workers ate his fill, was dressed not in rags, but in his own good jacket, and was shod in thick boots with iron hobnails, so that his feet would never run up against anything; he worked, not under the lash, but with training and his own understanding." The same story also describes a great contrast between the reception given in St Petersburg to a drunken English sailor (suitably cared-for) and his Russian companion (kicked around until he died). Unfortunately, it suited many of Leskov's contemporaries to place greater weight on Lefty's further comment, "We haven't gone far in learning, but, then, we're faithfully devoted to our fatherland."

Comparing translations where I can, I have been surprised to find how close Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's translation is to those that have gone before. Sometimes, it might be that another translator has a slight edge on them, but then they succeed in communicating something that remained unclear in an earlier translation and the advantage moves to them. All in all, it's an excellent translation, with helpful end-notes and a thoughtful introduction (which, as so often, is best read after the stories). With so much packed into this volume, it is a first rate package.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 8 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories (Vintage Classics) (Hardcover)
Great Russian short stories..
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The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories (Vintage Classics)
The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories (Vintage Classics) by Nikolai Leskov (Hardcover - 4 April 2013)
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