Photograph of Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy, out seeking, circa 1905. Photo Credit: WikiCommons

I am thrilled to have been invited to contribute to the wonderful online journal, Reading in Translation, on this special occasion of World Book Day! My essay, “Always to Seek: On Reading Russian Literature in Translation” is a personal meditation on the enduring power of Russian literature and a reflection on the art of translation itself.

Click here to read “Always to Seek: On Reading Russian Literature in Translation” over on the Reading in Translation website!

Russophile Reads wishes all russophiles a very Happy World Book Day!

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© Brandy Harrison/Russophile Reads 2021

14 thoughts on ““Always to Seek: On Reading Russian Literature in Translation” (Essay)

  1. A great article! I enjoyed reading it and I applaud and admire your commitment and love for the Russian literature. I am definitely one of those people who thinks that a good translation is capable of conveying an author’s work and do it very well. My native language is Russian, but my very first reading of the Russian classics were in their translated to English versions because I could not get hold of the originals in country I was living in. It was life-changing and I loved those books, even though I realise that in Russian they may even be better. Those works included Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Crime & Punishment. Those were excellent works in translation, I thought. Of course, I since read them in their original Russian, but the English translations will always stay with me.

    I am not so sure though about your sentence about the sheer void of the “Russian literature” in the Middle Age, European Renaissance, etc. I realise Russia had other things on its mind at that time, but just because some “literature” wasn’t known, it does not mea it did not exist – I did study in my Russian school such excellent work as Слово о пълкѹ Игоревѣ (The Tale of Igor’s Campaign) which probably dates to the late twelve century and there are some other ancient works or “letopis”, but I am far from an expert in this field.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and insight, Diana! Always lovely to have you stop by. 🙂

      I agree that Russia did indeed have literature before its “miraculous” phase in the 19th century — my emphasis was more that Russia was not seen as playing much of a role in wider European culture, at least in the eyes of other European nations. Rightly or wrongly, Russia’s culture (including its literature) was mostly ignored by its European peers for a very long time. Thankfully, that did eventually change, though!

      And you’re right: a great translation is the next best thing to the original, and the better the translation is, the more you forget it’s a translation at all! We owe translators so much for the work that they do.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant article, congratulations – I always think Russian authors at first glance seem like a mammoth task (which they are!), but when you finally get into them, they seem to capture something that no other authors seem to manage.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I’m even more glad to hear you agree about the special power of Russian authors — there really *is* something different about them. I love world literature in general, but there’s something about the Russians that always keep me coming back for more. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Here is a list of most the Russian translators I have read:
    Constance Garnett
    Aylmer and Louise Maude
    David Magarshack
    Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
    I am in no position to say who is better or worse and have appreciated them all.


    1. I love all of the translators you’ve listed! I personally find that sometimes I’ll enjoy one translator’s rendering of a certain work (Constance Garnett’s “War and Peace”), while preferring another for a different work (Aylmer and Louise Maude’s “Anna Karenina”), even if I find both translators equally talented! It’s so interesting, because no two translations will ever be exactly alike, so each has its own style, which is why I sometimes read more than one translation of a book I really enjoy.


  4. Wow, and all along I thought you were a male. I just read your biography. Speaking of great translators, Margaret Jull Costa from one of your two countries Portugal is spectacularly good.


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