If you’re not planning on learning and learning it fast, this holiday season is the perfect time to treat yourself to a bit of classic literature, English language style, brought to you by renowned translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
My first Russian classic was Crime & Punishment, translated by the Paris-residing couple whose names were unfamiliar to me at the time. My experience with Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece was unforgettable, and as someone who has also read rather rough translations of the Russian language into both Spanish and English, I can attribute that to Pevear and Volokhonsky’s expertise.
Needless to say, the genius minds behind the most delicious reads (War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, Note from the Underground, Dead Souls, any and all of Chekhov’s stories) are the authors themselves – I have read a few spats laid out in online publications regarding the translators’ fame and the hype created around their English language versions. One may like their style or not, and be in favor or against straying from literal translations to create a more “readable” and approachable book. What is undisputable is the immediate benefits that come from the importance given by the pair to the polyphonic in these classics – Russian literature is yet again at the height of literary discussions, and the manners in which to deal with the impossible task of providing a reader who does not speak Russian with a linguistically loyal version of any Russian classic are being frequently contemplated.
These are no ad hoc translations – they have been widely read, widely used and irrevocably prized. While that may not erase the ages-old fidelity versus malleability debate, it does go to show that a wider range of accessibility of the aforementioned classics does not go unnoticed by hungry readers, especially if they happen to speak one, two or three only – and none of them Russian.

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