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Best English translations of Russian fiction literature
Thread poster: Andrew Vdovin

Andrew Vdovin
Local time: 02:16
English to Russian
+ ...
Nov 15, 2017

Dear native English-speaking colleagues!

Would someone please recommend any translations of Russian fiction literature (classic or modern) which, in your opinion, are very good? That is, they should be fluent and sound absolutely natural to any English-speaking reader, they should read as texts that were originally written in English rather than translated into it from Russian.

Are there such translations that you can recommend as very good and professional?

Any recommendations will be highly appreciated.

Thank you very much.


 

TranslationPanacea TranslationPanacea
India
Local time: 00:46
not English, but in Hindi and Marathi Nov 16, 2017

Hi, I am sorry if I am drifting a bit, but I know of 2 excellent translations from Russian into Hindi and Marathi (two prominent Indian languages) of Deniskini Ruskazi (Denis Stories) by Viktor Dragunsky. Hindi translation is by Dr. Charumati Ramdas and Marathi by Dr. Anagha Bhat. Both are absolutely fluent, as if written in the target languages, yet preserving the Russian flavour and innocence. Very good translations!

You asked for English, and I shared for other languages, hope you excuse me, but could not help sharing it.

All the best for your search.
best
Vidula


 

Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Self-praise is no recommendation, but... Nov 16, 2017

You might like to look at one of mine, e.g.:
"The Secret of Ivan the Terrible", by Piotr Homyakov (Russian title "Тайна царя Иоанна"). Available from Amazon.


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Chekhov Nov 16, 2017

The important Irish author Bernard McLaverty has recommended the translations of Chekhov by Constance Garnett - even though by now they might be said to be somewhat dated, and have been widely criticised ("Garnett is often wooden in her renderings, sometimes unequal to certain verbal motifs and particularly long and complicated sentences"). I have her translations of Chekhov's short stories and I must admit that I do find them a bit flat. Can anyone recommend an alternative?

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/11/07/the-translation-wars

And here is a brilliantly funny essay by Nabokov that may make you mistrust *any* translation from Russian to English:

https://newrepublic.com/article/62610/the-art-translation

[Edited at 2017-11-16 13:15 GMT]


 

The Misha
Local time: 15:16
Russian to English
+ ...
Nabokov's Ada, or Ardor Nov 16, 2017

I mean, the original text in English, that is. To be sure, it is no translation, and it does not even sound "absolutely natural" to an English speaker at all times. Still, it is some of the best prose ever written in English - and of all people, it's been written by a Russian speaker. Hehe.

Andrew Vdovin wrote:

sound absolutely natural to any English-speaking reader, they should read as texts that were originally written in English rather than translated into it from Russian.


I would venture a cautious guess that no work of literature transplanted between different cultures, especially such disparate ones as those of Russia and England/the US would ever sound "absolutely natural," and that's before we even start talking subject matter. Heck, most Americans would find texts written by Brits somewhat funny, and that concerns syntax just about as much as the different vocabulary preferences everyone knows about.

Now, if you really want something that would sound "absolutely natural" in English, you should order a translation of a Russian legal document from me. Bwahaha:))))))))


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Heck? Nov 16, 2017

The Misha wrote:

Heck


I can't believe anyone actually says that


 

The Misha
Local time: 15:16
Russian to English
+ ...
You'd be surprised... Nov 16, 2017

Tom in London wrote:

The Misha wrote:

Heck


I can't believe anyone actually says that


... how many of us do here in the US. You probably find the way we write just about as funny as we find your own writings at times. I mean, really, who on earth says "Happy Christmas"?

Which only proves my point.


 

Patrick Fitzsimons  Identity Verified
United States
Member (2015)
Thai to English
Peter Constantine Nov 16, 2017

I'd recommend Peter Constantine's translations of Isaac Babel. His version of the Red Cavalry stories is incredible.

 

Andrew Vdovin
Local time: 02:16
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Dragunsky Nov 17, 2017

TranslationPanacea TranslationPanacea wrote:

Hi, I am sorry if I am drifting a bit, but I know of 2 excellent translations from Russian into Hindi and Marathi (two prominent Indian languages) of Deniskini Ruskazi (Denis Stories) by Viktor Dragunsky. Hindi translation is by Dr. Charumati Ramdas and Marathi by Dr. Anagha Bhat.
Vidula


Thank you Vidula.
I wish I could read those, but I speak neither Hindi nor Marathi.
However, Dragunsky's stories were translated into English as well, and I believe that the translation is pretty good, even though it was made by a non-native English speaker.
If interested, here is a link:
https://wheleph.gitlab.io/the-adventures-of-dennis/index.html
THE ADVENTURES OF DENNIS
by Victor Dragunsky
Translated from the Russian by Faina Glagoleva
English translation ©Progress Publishers 1981

[Edited at 2017-11-17 03:16 GMT]


 

Andrew Vdovin
Local time: 02:16
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you Jack! Nov 17, 2017

Jack Doughty wrote:
You might like to look at one of mine, e.g.:
"The Secret of Ivan the Terrible", by Piotr Homyakov (Russian title "Тайна царя Иоанна").


Jack, I'm sure your translation of this modern Russian fiction is very good. Thanks for your recommendation!


 

Andrew Vdovin
Local time: 02:16
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
From what I have heard... Nov 17, 2017

Tom in London wrote:

The important Irish author Bernard McLaverty has recommended the translations of Chekhov by Constance Garnett - even though by now they might be said to be somewhat dated, and have been widely criticised ("Garnett is often wooden in her renderings, sometimes unequal to certain verbal motifs and particularly long and complicated sentences"). I have her translations of Chekhov's short stories and I must admit that I do find them a bit flat. Can anyone recommend an alternative?


From what I have heard, Garnett always sounds pretty the same whatever she translates, be that Chekhov, Dostoyevsky or Turgenev.
Some people told me that Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky's translations of Chekhov's stories are pretty good.
Thanks Tom.

[Edited at 2017-11-17 03:15 GMT]


 

Andrew Vdovin
Local time: 02:16
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I wouldn't agree. Nov 17, 2017

The Misha wrote:
I would venture a cautious guess that no work of literature transplanted between different cultures, especially such disparate ones as those of Russia and England/the US would ever sound "absolutely natural," and that's before we even start talking subject matter.


I wouldn't agree, because there are quite a number of fiction books about Russia written by American or English authors. Do they sound unnatural to native English speakers?


 

Andrew Vdovin
Local time: 02:16
English to Russian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Isaac Babel Nov 17, 2017

Patrick Fitzsimons wrote:
I'd recommend Peter Constantine's translations of Isaac Babel. His version of the Red Cavalry stories is incredible.

Never heard of this translator before. Thank you very much for your recommendation, Patrick!


 

Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:16
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Good suggestions here Nov 17, 2017

By Gary Saul Morson, "The Pevearsion of Russian Literature."
https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/the-pevearsion-of-russian-literature/

I can't vouch for the translations he recommends, just pass them along.

It's interesting that Constance Garnet has her defenders, after all these years. It was reading her translations in adolescence that convinced me to major in Russian in college (among other things).

On modern literature, I recently read a translation by the quite prolific translator Robert Chandler (I think it was of Andrei Platonov's "The Foundation Pit") and found it embarrassingly awful. Full of Russian phrases rendered literally.

PS and OT - And about Misha's "heck," indeed nobody says that, as Misha undoubtedly knows, unless they are trying to avoid saying something stronger in a public forum. It is a euphemism for "hell," apparently introduced in 1865, when talking about "hell" was considered bad manners, since that was a place where souls actually burned for all eternity. Not that Misha would have anything against saying "hell," or even perhaps something stronger (!).
Just looked at Google Ngrams, and according to that esteemed source, Tom and I are wrong. Usage of "heck" in BOOKS (which is not the same as conversations, of course), has soared in BOTH British and American English in the past decade or two (you can fiddle with the dropdown menu to get BE, AE, English Fiction, etc.). https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=heck&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1;,heck;,c0




[Edited at 2017-11-17 13:12 GMT]


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
Italian to English
What the... Nov 17, 2017

"what the heck" is fairly acceptable as a prudish alternative for "what the hell" but "heck" just by itself is grotesque.

 
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