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Customer Review

151 of 157 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book but choose your translation carefully, 14 Nov. 2009
This review is from: The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I posted this review on the US Amazon site, but thought I would reproduce it here, hopefully it will be useful.

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I read the Michael Glenny version in the late sixties, and have loved it deeply ever since. Having lent my copy to a friend I bought a new one some years ago - and I thought I would try the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky version.

This couple evidently know the nuances of Russian culture but they simply can't write idiomatic English and their translation therefore loses the spontaneity and fun of the Glenny version.

Compare these early paragraphs: by Pevear and Volokhonsky

'What the devil does he want?' thought Homeless, frowning.
'And you were agreeing with your interlocutor?' inquired the stranger, turning to Homeless on his right.
'A hundred per cent!' confirmed the man, who was fond of whimsical and figurative
expressions.
'Amazing!' exclaimed the uninvited interlocutor and, casting a thievish glance around and
muffling his low voice for some reason, he said:
'Forgive my importunity, but, as I understand, along with everything else, you also do not
believe in God?' he made frightened eyes and added: 'I swear I won't tell anyone!'
'No, we don't believe in God,' Berlioz replied, smiling slightly at the foreign tourist's fright, but we can speak of it quite freely.'
The foreigner sat back on the bench and asked, even with a slight shriek of curiosity:
'You are - atheists?!'
Yes, we're atheists,' Berlioz smilingly replied, and Homeless thought, getting angry: 'Latched on to us, the foreign goose"

With these by Michael Glenny:

'Ah, how interesting!' exclaimed the foreigner.
'What the hell does he want?' thought Bezdomny and frowned.
'And do you agree with your friend?' enquired the unknown man, turning to Bezdomny on his right.
'A hundred per cent!' affirmed the poet, who loved to use pretentious numerical expressions.
'Astounding!' cried their unbidden companion. Glancing furtively round and lowering his voice he said : 'Forgive me for being so rude, but am I right in thinking that you do not believe in God either?' He gave a horrified look and said: 'I swear not to tell anyone!'
'Yes, neither of us believes in God,' answered Berlioz with a faint smile at this foreign tourist's apprehension. ' But we can talk about it with absolute freedom.'
The foreigner leaned against the backrest of the bench and asked, in a voice positively squeaking with curiosity :
'Are you . . . atheists? '
'Yes, we're atheists,' replied Berlioz, smiling, and Bezdomny thought angrily : ' Trying to pick an argument, damn foreigner! '

Which version do you think would be more enjoyable to read....?

I'm now looking for the Burgin/Tiernan O'Connor version so that I can read that to compare.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Jan 2010 15:34:26 GMT
Last edited by the author on 1 Jan 2010 15:40:24 GMT
H. Roche says:
Thanks so much for this helpful comparison. I've got the Glenny version, and am trying to decide whether to read it, or get the Burgin/O'Connor version, which seems highly rated. Frustratingly, practically all editions on Amazon with the 'Look Inside' feature, link to the same edition translated by Karpelson, which looks so-so. The Pevear translation is the only other one that I've found a 'Look Inside' view of, and it appears to be consistently terrible!

Posted on 1 Jan 2010 15:38:25 GMT
H. Roche says:
p.s. - I may be confused about this, but the Burgin/O'Connor translation appears to be the one used in the heavily slated Classic House/ Create Space editions, so avoid those; they appear to be very shoddily typeset, full of typos and badly spaced out.

Posted on 17 Feb 2011 00:00:42 GMT
C. Skillen says:
I can't agree: I find Pevear and Volokhonsky's work admirable. Translation is always fraught with trade-offs, but personally, I find their work both fresh in its English and stimulating in its sensitivity to the underlying Russian. There are good reasons for the choices which you seem to object to.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Apr 2011 23:19:24 BDT
Mr. P. Byrne says:
Agreed, I have the Pevear translation it definitely is enjoyable to read. If it remains more faithful to the original, even better.

Posted on 6 Jul 2011 15:58:22 BDT
E.G.M. says:
I'm someone who found the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation to be a far more pleasurable read than the Glenny, which does not catch the cadences of the original. Mr Pevear's English prose seems to me to be exceptional, it zings. Also a joy to read are the introductions that he has written to the books that he and his wife have translated.

Posted on 2 Feb 2012 20:11:58 GMT
K. Dieckmann says:
I must disagree as well. I have read the Karpelson translation and found it to be quite satisfying, but from what you have posted here I have to admit that I would go for the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. Perhaps we have different taste, but that's the one that appeals the most to me. It's an outstanding book, though, so I'll definitely try to find more translations so I can form a better opinion (and make sure I've read the best version as well).

In reply to an earlier post on 28 Aug 2012 07:56:36 BDT
H. T. Davies says:
I have to agree with the original poster; i bought this translation and read about half-way through before giiving it up as a bad job. When you can't even translate an address correctly, there's little hope for the rest of the text IMO
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