Saturday, December 12, 2009

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have translated books by such writers as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nikolai Gogol, Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy, including his Anna Karenina and War and Peace.

From their interview with Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg of the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: What determines which books you translate?

Mr. Pevear and Ms. Volokhonsky: We have always chosen them ourselves. We thought first of all that Dostoyevsky had not been well translated into English. There was a misunderstanding of his style and tone, especially his playfulness. Most English readers think of him as dark and brooding. His jokes, his narrative, are always playful, or almost always. We thought it would add a dimension to the understanding of Dostoyevsky that non-Russians don't have. The only book that was commissioned is the new one, "Doctor Zhivago," which was commissioned by Pantheon.

WSJ: You've translated 16 books together. Which was the most difficult, and why?

Mr. Pevear: "Doctor Zhivago." The issue is the prose. It's not that rich or ornate, but it's extremely difficult to translate. His language is very studied. Even when it looks simple, it's not. The sentences aren't long or complex, but it's the quality of the words. It's never what you expect. He doesn't fall into a flow of language that you can pick up and ride along on. Every sentence has to be worked out.

WSJ: How do you resolve your differences over the work, and do disagreements ever spill over into your personal life?

Ms. Volokhonsky: Richard is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue