War and Peace (Pevear/Volokhonsky Translation) [NOOK Book]

Overview

Often called the greatest novel ever written, War and Peace is at once an epic of the Napoleonic Wars, a philosophical study, and a celebration of the Russian spirit. Tolstoy’s genius is seen clearly in the multitude of characters in this massive chronicle—all of them fully realized and equally memorable. Out of this complex narrative emerges a profound examination of the individual’s place in the historical process, one that makes it clear why Thomas Mann praised Tolstoy for his Homeric powers and placed War and...
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War and Peace (Pevear/Volokhonsky Translation)

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Overview

Often called the greatest novel ever written, War and Peace is at once an epic of the Napoleonic Wars, a philosophical study, and a celebration of the Russian spirit. Tolstoy’s genius is seen clearly in the multitude of characters in this massive chronicle—all of them fully realized and equally memorable. Out of this complex narrative emerges a profound examination of the individual’s place in the historical process, one that makes it clear why Thomas Mann praised Tolstoy for his Homeric powers and placed War and Peace in the same category as the Iliad: “To read him . . . is to find one’s way home . . . to everything within us that is fundamental and sane.”

An essay on translating WAR AND PEACE by Richard Pevear

To many prospective readers Tolstoy's War and Peace is the most intimidating of literary monuments. It is there, like a vast, unexplored continent, and all sorts of daunting rumors circulate about life in the interior. But once you cross the border, you discover that the world of War and Peace is more familiar and at the same time more surprising than the rumors suggested. That is as true for the translator as it is for the first-time reader.

We spent three years working full-time on the translation, revising it, copy-editing it, proofreading it twice, meaning that each of us read the novel some five times in Russian and in English. Yet even in my final checking of the proofs, I still found myself delighting, laughing, or holding back my tears as I read. An example of this last is the moment near the end when Pierre and Natasha, after all the harrowing experiences they've lived through, finally meet again in Princess Marya's drawing room. Pierre sees that Princess Marya has someone with her, but doesn't realize who it is. Princess Marya is perplexed.


She again shifted her gaze from Pierre's face to the face of the lady in the black dress and said:

"Don't you recognize her?"

Pierre glanced once more at the pale, fine face of the companion, with its dark eyes and strange mouth. Something dear, long forgotten, and more than sweet looked at him from those attentive eyes.

"But no, it can't be," he thought. "This stern, thin, pale, aged face? It can't be her. It's only a reminiscence of that one." But just then Princess Marya said: "Natasha." And the face, with its attentive eyes, with difficulty, with effort, like a rusty door opening – smiled, and from that open door there suddenly breathed and poured out upon Pierre that long-forgotten happiness of which, especially now, he was not even thinking. It breathed out, enveloped, and swallowed him whole. When she smiled, there could no longer be any doubt: it was Natasha, and he loved her.


What makes this passage so moving is not only the drama of the moment itself, but the way Tolstoy has sensed it and captured it in words. It can't be paraphrased; the translator has to follow as closely as possible the exact sequence and pacing of the words in order to catch the "musical" meaning of the original, which is less apparent than the "literal" meaning, but alone creates the impression Tolstoy intended.

I've said "translator," and in a sense our collaboration is so close that the two of us make up one translator who has the luck to be a native speaker of two languages. That situation has its advantages. Translators are always in danger of drifting into the sort of language that is commonly referred to as "smooth," "natural," or, as they now say, "reader friendly," and is really only a tissue of ready-made phrases. When that happens to me, as it sometimes does, Larissa is there to stop me. Where I have my say is in judging the quality of our English text, that is, in drawing the line between a literal and a faithful rendering, which are not at all the same. If the translation does not finally "work" in English, it doesn't work at all.

I'll take an example of what that collaboration can produce from Tolstoy's description of the Russian army crossing the river Enns. After a good deal of confusion, the hussar captain Denisov finally manages to clear the infantry from the bridge and send his cavalry over. As the first riders move onto the bridge, Tolstoy writes: "On the planks of the bridge the transparent sounds of hoofs rang out . . ." The Russian is unmistakable—prozrachnye zvuki "transparent sounds"—and I find its precision breathtaking. It is pure Tolstoy. To my knowledge, it has never been translated into English. What we find in other versions is the "thud" or "clang" of hoofs, and it is likely that I would have done something similar if Larissa had not brought me back to what Tolstoy actually wrote. His prose is full of such moments. Coming upon them and finding words for them in English has been one of the most rewarding aspects of our work.

Here is a very different and rather amusing example of the search for fidelity. Count Ilya Andreich Rostov, Natasha's father, is giving a banquet in honor of General Bagration. Ordering the menu, he insists that "grebeshki" be put in the "tortue." I assumed that tortue was French turtle soup, but what about grebeshki? The Russian word can mean either "cock's-combs" or "scallops." Which would you put in a turtle soup? I did research into the uses of cock's-combs, but with rather unappealing results. I looked at previous translations: one has "scallops" and thinks the soup is a "pie crust"; another has "cock's-combs" but in a "pasty"; in a third the "cock's-combs" are in a "soup"; the fourth agrees about the soup, but puts "croutons" in it.

Going by my own taste, I decided to put scallops in the turtle soup. This reading got as far as the first set of page proofs. Just then we met by chance (at a dinner in Paris) a woman who used to run a cooking school. We asked her which it should be. She, too, was puzzled. A few days later we received a long email from her. She had become so intrigued by our question that she went to the French National Library the next day and looked up the history of the culinary use of cock's-combs. She was happy to inform us that they came into fashion precisely around the time of the Napoleonic wars and were a key ingredient in turtle sauce. Suddenly the whole passage made sense, because the chef replies to the old count's order: "Three cold sauces, then?" The other translations have "three cold dishes" or "entrees," with no relation to sauces at all. Thanks to Mme. Meunier, we were able to make the correction in the second set of proofs.

But does such a small thing really matter? Well, it certaintly did to Tolstoy. What this seemingly trivial detail reveals is the extraordinary accuracy of his memory, even in the smallest things. Cock's-combs had gone out of fashion by his time, but he knew where to place them and in what.

Tolstoy's prose is a rich, fluid, multivoiced artistic medium. There is, for instance, a war between the French and Russian languages in War and Peace that mirrors the war between the French and Russian armies. His play with French and with gallicized Russian is a major element of social satire in the novel's composition, allowing him the sort of linguistic infiltrations later found in Joyce and Nabokov. This adds a verbal dimension to War and Peace that English readers don't suspect is there, because previous English translations have eliminated it. But this precocious modernism is never word play for its own sake. It is always moved by passion.

The world of War and Peace envelops you. It is full of uncertainties, surprises, constantly shifting perspectives, but once you enter it you feel that you're in sure hands. Over it all is that "infinite sky" that Prince Andrei discovers as he lies wounded on the field of Austerlitz. This vast unity that embraces the greatest diversity is the secret, the mystery, of Tolstoy's art. It presents a great challenge to its translators, as I've tried to suggest in a small way.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
…a fine new translation, especially one by the widely acclaimed team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, offers an opportunity to see this great classic afresh, to approach it not as a monument (or mausoleum) but rather as a deeply touching story about our contradictory human hearts. Stressing that their War and Peace sticks more closely to the Russian text than any other, including Louise and Aylmer Maude's semi-canonical 1923 version, Pevear and Volokhonsky retain the considerable amount of French used by Tolstoy's counts and princesses, preserve the author's penchant for word repetition and aim to match his tidy syntactic conciseness. The result certainly reads smoothly, its English being neither egregiously contemporary nor inappropriately old-fashioned. In this respect, the Pevear-Volokhonsky War and Peace joins company with recent translations of The Tale of Genji, Don Quixote and In Search of Lost Time, these being among the few works of classic fiction equal to Tolstoy's in scope and richness.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
“Shimmering. . . . [It] offers an opportunity to see this great classic afresh, to approach it not as a monument but rather as a deeply touching story about our contradictory human hearts.”
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World

“A major new translation . . . [which] brings us the palpability [of Tolstoy's characters] as perhaps never before. . . . Pevear and Volokhonsky's new translation gives us new access to the spirit and order of the book.”
—James Wood, The New Yorker

“Excellent. . . . An extraordinary achievement. . . . Wonderfully fresh and readable. . . . The English-speaking world is indebted to these two magnificent translators for revealing more of its hidden riches than any who have tried to translated the book before.”
—Orlando Figes, The New York Review of Books

"Tolstoy's War and Peace has often been put in a league with Homer's epic poems; it seems to me that the same might be said for Pevear and Volokhonsky's translation of his great novel. . . . Their efforts convey a much closer equivalent in English to the experience of reading the original."
—Michael Katz, New England Review
Full review here: http://www.nereview.com/29-4/29-4Katz.htm

The Barnes & Noble Review
We might as well face it at the outset -- War and Peace is a big book. In length, obviously: nearly 1,250 pages in this translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. That makes it heavy to lug around, and when I read it in bed it left a dent in my sternum. And it requires a big commitment: unless you took the same speed reading course Woody Allen did (he read it in 20 minutes and reported: "It involved Russia"), it takes a big chunk out of your life to read. It's big in ambition, too: there's Tolstoy's, of course -- it took him more than ten years to write, research, and rewrite -- but closer to home, there's yours, if this is a mission you choose to accept. Reading War and Peace -- or being seen to do so -- is a sign that you are a Serious-to-the-Verge-of-Pretentious Person. The few times when I was caught reading it in public I felt sheepish.

I'm not trying to be flippant. Since reading War and Peace over the summer, I've come to think that everything important one takes away from it is due to its size. Because Tolstoy deals with world-historical events like Napoleon's invasion of Russia, the book could feel like potted history. But Tolstoy cannily uses the vast space at his disposal to make the experience of reading about these bygone battles and people both real and made-up seem rounded and authentic. At one end of the scale, he periodically stops the flow of time and action to contemplate lots of stuff that doesn't fit in a narrative sequence: the presumptuousness of human ambition, the limitations of our ability to analyze the reasons why things happen as they do, the differing roles of the historian and the novelist.

At the other end of the scale, Tolstoy positively luxuriates in small moments, lounging about in details that a tough-minded editor would cut on grounds of space and yet which stay in my mind far longer than abstractions, no matter how profound. There's an exhilarating moment when Denisov, a short hussar with a speech impediment whom none of the women ever takes seriously, moves to the floor to dance the mazurka: "On the downbeat, he gave his lady a victorious and jocular sidelong look, unexpectedly stamped his foot [and] bounced off the floor springily.... [S]preading his legs, he stopped on his heels, paused like that for a second, tapped his feet in place with a clanking of spurs, spun quickly, then, tapping his right ankle with his left foot, again flew along in a circle." There's the old nanny Anna Makarovna, who has a trick that never fails to thrill the children (and me): "[B]y a secret known only to herself, Anna Makarovna knitted [two stockings] at once on her needles, and which she always drew triumphantly one out of the other before the children, when the stockings were finished." (By the way, there's video online of knitters who can perform Anna Makarovna's trick -- and a lot of them quote Tolstoy.) These are moments when a private piece of a person's character flashes out; Tolstoy grants us the ability to glimpse and understand these moments intimately, but how many times in life have we seen such moments and missed them?

Tolstoy has us enter his imposing edifice through a frippery occasion, although the hostess, Anna Pavlovna, wouldn't thank us for saying so. She has carved out a niche in political soirées where everybody speaks the best French. Tolstoy likens her to a factory owner who keeps the spindles and wheels running smoothly. Why begin here? Well, for one thing, we get a glimpse of the people inhabiting the corridors of power in Russia, with public grandstanding and private influence peddling, and we also experience for ourselves the shiny banality of their faces, clothes, smiles, and conversation. For another, we meet the two main male characters, neither of whom fits comfortably into this world. The aristocratic newlywed Prince Andrei ought to, and yet he holds himself sardonically aloof, even from his cute little pet of a wife. Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a dying count, is a bit more of an outsider, newly arrived from Paris and eager to enter into the swing of things. He is merely inadvertently awkward.

Life is so messy and disorganized -- or, conversely, so structured by outside forces -- that it's hard to know which man has adopted the better strategy for coping. Neither, though, is happy with his choice; both come up against a moment that seems to call them imperiously to some more authentic way of living. I think of Rilke, faced with an implacable ancient torso of Apollo: "You must change your life." Easier said than done. Tolstoy's Napoleon hasn't an inkling of that kind of heroism. And how to persuade us of its possibility, let alone accomplishment, in fiction?

I come back to size. Ever since high school English, I've distrusted short stories with that moment of epiphany that's supposed to betoken a cataclysmic change of heart. Even the most skilful -- Joyce's "The Dead," say, or Flannery O'Connor's "Revelation" -- don't really manage to overcome my suspicion that the life that will continue after the story stops wouldn't really turn out to be all that different. Give me a good couple hundred pages at least to see how someone can muster the will over the long haul to change his life. Tolstoy gives us plenty more than that, allowing his characters the room they need to develop in credible ways.

War and Peace covers a long span of time -- about 15 years all told. And precisely because it can seem to take almost as long to read, whatever change characters undergo -- or choose -- feels real. Take Natasha: to my mind charming even when infuriating, she starts as an ardent 13 and ends a very different figure at 27 -- but that's such a stage of flux that it's not surprising. (I can't resist quoting: "She valued the society of the people to whom, disheveled, in a dressing gown, she could come striding out of the nursery with a joyful face and show a diaper with a yellow instead of a green stain, and hear comforting words that the baby was now much better.") Lying wounded on the battlefield of Austerlitz, the initially cynical Prince Andrei has a vision of the eternal that alters everything about his life -- but precisely because it's so far out of everyday experience he cannot express it to anyone. Tolstoy, however, opens Andrei's heart to us in a way that makes what is inexpressible entirely believable. And then there is Pierre. He begins as an overgrown frat boy, bumbles into a spiritual conversion, hatches a ludicrous plan to alter the course of history...what a mess! He's also fat and conversationally a bit odd, which makes it all the harder for a lot of people in and out of the novel to take him seriously. And yet by the end, we see him become magnanimous, even wise. How has this come to be?

Pierre is (if I were forced to choose) my favorite character, and the constant effort of his inner self's unfolding -- seeking, striving, losing its way, giving up, regrouping -- is for me the most compelling plot line. Through a typically human combination of ill-informed choice and accident, Pierre becomes a common prisoner of war when the French reach Moscow. But something odd happens when he shares a life of imprisonment with ordinary foot soldiers: "The very qualities which, in the world he formerly lived in, were, if not harmful, at least a hindrance to him -- his strength, his scorn of life's comforts, his absentmindedness, his simplicity -- here, among these people, gave him almost the status of a hero. And Pierre felt that this view obliged him." Are we here witnessing in Pierre, about one thousand pages in, a real understanding of what humans owe each other, a true conversion? Maybe so -- but it doesn't mean there aren't a few slips, follies, and downright failures in his future. And that feels authentic, too.

I've read War and Peace once before, at 21, and vividly remember holding forth in class about it. It was chastening this summer to discover that I'd forgotten almost everything about the novel except that it involved Russia. Fortunately, the bits I did remember -- the Battle of Austerlitz, the scenes from family life at the end -- were still compelling. There were many times in the past few months when Tolstoy's world became my world. Sometimes I'd just slip in for a little visit -- reading a chapter or two (almost all are conveniently short) standing by the stove while waiting for the coffee water to boil or sitting in the car in the interstices of suburban-mother carpooling. At night I would fall into it for chapters at a time, and snatches of Tolstoy would roll about my head during the day, such as the memory of Andrei falling in love despite himself: " 'And what makes her happy?' Prince Andrei asked himself with involuntary curiosity." Or the bedtime prayer of Platon, a peasant whose life seems to have no discernable shape: "So there, Lord, lay me down like a stone, raise me up like a loaf." I hope never to witness a wolf hunt or a mob baying for the blood of a scapegoat, but there's been time for them, too, in Tolstoy's vast narrative expanse.

The novel is so long there's even time to be bored every now and then. I say this, by the way, as a compliment. "Bored" might be the wrong word; what I mean to describe are moments when nothing much to my mind is happening, or nobody I like is talking. My longueurs are probably not yours. But such moments are part of life, too, and have their own lessons. Long novels, I find, teach me patience with characters and ideas that would be easy to turn away from in life (and short fiction). Natasha's younger brother Petya may dream of the tsar, Mother Russia, and glory in battle in ways I don't find congenial, and yet I feel more tender toward what I see as his foolish gallantry than I might have if I had not encountered them in the context of Tolstoy's enormous canvas. I also have Petya to thank for the hypersensitive description of nocturnal waiting for the dawn of battle, just as memorable as Henry V walking the fields incognito the night before Agincourt: "Drops dripped. Quiet talk went on. Horses neighed and scuffled. Someone snored."

So the short version is: I loved my summer of War and Peace and am grateful for the translation that inspired me to read the novel again. I don't know any Russian, but I have read a number of other translations by Pevear and Volokhonsky -- most memorably, for me, their Brothers Karamazov, which was an absolute revelation. It was like a brilliantly cleaned painting, bringing out thrilling touches, caustic details, and even grimly funny highlights that just hadn't appeared to nonexperts before. This Tolstoy translation doesn't sound at all like the other ones of theirs I've read, but then, of course it's a different book. At first, I found the language stilted and artificial; it made the party scenes and military planning meetings that open the book slightly slow-going for me. And yet isn't that part of the point? I quite like the decision they made about the French conversations in the original. They leave them untranslated in the text (which means you can tell when characters are speaking in French and speculate about why they might be doing so), but they render them in English in notes at the bottom of the page. Pevear and Volokhonsky also have scads of historical and explanatory commentary tucked in the back, which I mostly ignored in the full flood of reading but which made a kind of fun self-quiz when I'd finished.

For anyone who still hasn't had enough of War and Peace, there's another translation newly available -- this one of Tolstoy's first version of the novel. When it reappeared in Russia a few years ago, the publisher pushed it as "half the usual length, less war and more peace, no philosophical digressions." Tolstoy had apparently thought of calling it All's Well That Ends Well. You'd be quite correct to think that it's a rather different book from the one he went on to write. Andrew Bromfield, the English translator, gamely tries to make the case that even first-time readers of the novel will enjoy it, but since most of his descriptions of what's truly interesting about the book lie in comparing the two versions, it makes more sense to read the famous longer one first. And as if all this weren't enough, I've been intrigued by the unabridged audiobook Naxos puts out -- 70 hours over a span of 51 CDs. It sounds like a big project for all concerned, but summer will be here before I know it. --Alexandra Mullen

Alexandra Mullen left a life as an academic in Victorian literature to return to her roots as a general reader. She now writes for The Hudson Review (where she is also an Advisory Editor), The New Criterion, and The Wall Street Journal.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307806581
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/5/2011
  • Series: Vintage Classics
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 1296
  • Sales rank: 85,350
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

A. N. Wilson is an award-winning novelist, biographer, and journalist, and the author of God’s Funeral and the biographies C. S. Lewis, Paul, and Jesus. He lives in London.

Biography

Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province, where he spent most of his early years, together with his several brothers. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan to read Oriental Languages and later Law, but left before completing a degree. He spent the following years in a round of drinking, gambling and womanizing, until weary of his idle existence he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus in 1851.

He took part in the Crimean war and after the defence of Sevastopol wrote The Sevastopol Sketches (1855-6), which established his literary reputation. After leaving the army in 1856 Tolstoy spent some time mixing with the literati in St Petersburg before traveling abroad and then settling at Yasnaya Polyana, where he involved himself in the running of peasant schools and the emancipation of the serfs. His marriage to Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862 marked the beginning of a period of contentment centred around family life; they had thirteen children. Tolstoy managed his vast estates, continued his educational projects, cared for his peasants and wrote both his great novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).

During the 1870s he underwent a spiritual crisis, the moral and religious ideas that had always dogged him coming to the fore. A Confession (1879–82) marked an outward change in his life and works; he became an extreme rationalist and moralist, and in a series of pamphlets written after 1880 he rejected church and state, indicted the demands of flesh, and denounced private property. His teachings earned him numerous followers in Russia and abroad, and also led finally to his excommunication by the Russian Holy Synod in 1901. In 1910 at the age of eighty-two he fled from home "leaving this worldly life in order to live out my last days in peace and solitude;" he died some days later at the station master's house at Astapovo.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Books LTD.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 9, 1828
    2. Place of Birth:
      Tula Province, Russia
    1. Date of Death:
      November 20, 1910
    2. Place of Death:
      Astapovo, Russia

Read an Excerpt

WELL, PRINCE, Genoa and Lucca are now no more than private estates of the Bonaparte family. No, I warn you, that if you do not tell me we are at war, if you again allow yourself to palliate all the infamies and atrocities of this Antichrist (upon my word, I believe he is), I don’t know you in future, you are no longer my friend, no longer my faithful slave, as you say. There, how do you do, how do you do? I see I’m scaring you, sit down and talk to me.”
These words were uttered in July 1805 by Anna Pavlovna Scherer, a distinguished lady of the court, and confidential maid-of-honour to the Empress Marya Fyodorovna. It was her greeting to Prince Vassily, a man high in rank and office, who was the first to arrive at her soirée. Anna Pavlovna had been coughing for the last few days; she had an attack of la grippe, as she said—grippe was then a new word only used by a few people. In the notes she had sent round in the morning by a footman in red livery, she had written to all indiscriminately:
“If you have nothing better to do, count (or prince), and if the prospect of spending an evening with a poor invalid is not too alarming to you, I shall be charmed to see you at my house between 7 and 10. Annette Scherer.”
“Heavens! what a violent outburst!” the prince responded, not in the least disconcerted at such a reception. He was wearing an embroidered court uniform, stockings and slippers, and had stars on his breast, and a bright smile on his flat face.
He spoke in that elaborately choice French, in which our forefathers not only spoke but thought, and with those slow, patronising intonations peculiar to a man of importance who has grown old in court society. He went up to Anna Pavlovna, kissed her hand, presenting her with a view of his perfumed, shining bald head, and complacently settled himself on the sofa.
“First of all, tell me how you are, dear friend. Relieve a friend’s anxiety,” he said, with no change of his voice and tone, in which indifference, and even irony, was perceptible through the veil of courtesy and sympathy.
“How can one be well when one is in moral suffering? How can one help being worried in these times, if one has any feeling?” said Anna Pavlovna. “You’ll spend the whole evening with me, I hope?”
“And the fête at the English ambassador’s? To-day is Wednesday. I must put in an appearance there,” said the prince. “My daughter is coming to fetch me and take me there.”
“I thought to-day’s fête had been put off. I confess that all these festivities and fireworks are beginning to pall.”
“If they had known that it was your wish, the fête would have been put off,” said the prince, from habit, like a wound-up clock, saying things he did not even wish to be believed.
“Don’t tease me. Well, what has been decided in regard to the Novosiltsov dispatch? You know everything.”
“What is there to tell?” said the prince in a tired, listless tone. “What has been decided? It has been decided that Bonaparte has burnt his ships, and I think that we are about to burn ours.”
Prince Vassily always spoke languidly, like an actor repeating his part in an old play. Anna Pavlovna Scherer, in spite of her forty years, was on the contrary brimming over with excitement and impulsiveness. To be enthusiastic had become her pose in society, and at times even when she had, indeed, no inclination to be so, she was enthusiastic so as not to disappoint the expectations of those who knew her. The affected smile which played continually about Anna Pavlovna’s face, out of keeping as it was with her faded looks, expressed a spoilt child’s continual consciousness of a charming failing of which she had neither the wish nor the power to correct herself, which, indeed, she saw no need to correct.
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Reading Group Guide

Often called the greatest novel ever written, War and Peace is at once an epic of the Napoleonic Wars, a philosophical study, and a celebration of the Russian spirit. Tolstoy’s genius is seen clearly in the multitude of characters in this massive chronicle—all of them fully realized and equally memorable. Out of this complex narrative emerges a profound examination of the individual’s place in the historical process, one that makes it clear why Thomas Mann praised Tolstoy for his Homeric powers and placed War and Peace in the same category as the Iliad: “To read him . . . is to find one’s way home . . . to everything within us that is fundamental and sane.”
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2010

    A landmark masterpiece brought to new life in a brilliantly re-thought translation.

    Translations of great works are usually a tricky business. One problem is that translations do not really age well. In works by Homer or Vergil, for instance, the originals remain fresh and timeless, but the translations soon come to seem stodgy or stuffy or worse -- what was truly great about the original can easily become obscured. So basically, the translations of the great works have to be recalibrated for each new generation. And even with that, not all translations are equally effective.

    This translation of War and Peace is a model of the translator's craft and art. They seem to have fully understood Tolstoy's goals and style.
    A long story, War and Peace does require a certain amount of commitment on the part of the reader. But this absorbing, erudite, clever and deeply human translation rewards the time dedicated to reading it. It is often said that War and Peace encompasses every possible emotion and experience that could be found in human life. Pevear and Volokhonsky have produced a translation that honors the original and makes it accesible to a larger audience than ever before. I have strongly requested a number of friends to read this book. They have all thanked me profusely and we have enjoyed many wonderful conversations about its contents.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    So who am I to review War and Peace?

    Tolstoy's insight into human nature is unsurpassed. His philosophical meanderings mark the dawn of modernism. His characters are charming. His depiction of battle is utterly humane. His grasp of history and its implications is unerring. Just read it, you'll be glad you did. By the way, this translation is indeed lucid and approachable.

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Tolstoy's Literary Investigation

    This is Tolstoy at the height of his powers. This edition translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is in its own right a masterpiece. I have read Constance Garnett's translation and this one is far superior. Their translations of Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Chekov are also some of the best translations of Russian works I have read. Tolstoy's War and Peace he did not consider a novel and I would agree. It does not have the elements of a novel and is more a meditative investigation of the time period, Russia, and history.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2009

    french in War and Peace

    just a note: Though at times it seems frustrating to read the translated French in footnotes, the dynamic between French and Russian is purposefully there. So, it becomes very helpful to know what characters regularly speak in French (and the general style of how it's used in the Russian aristocracy) when reading War and Peace.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 26, 2010

    I really like this translation

    As a proud new Nook owner (purchased after both of my sons came home within one week of each other with theirs), I wanted something serious to try it out on, so I went looking for a copy of War and Peace, which I had not read in many years. Being aware that there are usually several translations of a classic, I of course was looking for the one that I was familiar with, the old stand-by translation by Constance Garnett. As it was not obvious which edition on the last was that translation, I took advantage of the free sample available for this one, and I am very glad that I did. A few pages and I was hooked. I read the Section I of the first part in its entirety at one sitting.

    The decision was apparently made to leave the French portions intact, as the author had written them, showing how the upper class would normally slide in and out of both languages. It gives one a real feel for the way they talked. The translations of the French passages are at the back, but in the electronic version it is very easy to switch back and forth via the links provided. (I like to try to translate the passages on my own and then check to see if I did it right.)

    There is another entire set of notes on the historical references which are also invaluable.

    Tolstoy's incredible mind would shine through a merely competent or even a poor translation, I think; but this translation seems to me to have something a little extra: It seems to give one a feel for what it might be like to read him in the original Russian.

    Highly recommended.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 31, 2011

    Review of NOOK version

    DON'T buy the NOOK version of this book. I did. And I regretted it INSTANTLY. This book has TONS of footnotes that you have to read as you go along. However, in the NOOK version you can't easily access the footnotes as they are all at the back of the book rather than on the same page. I'm totally disappointed that I can't return this ebook (B&N has a no returns policy on ebooks). I'm going to have to buy the PAPER version of this book in order to read it.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2009

    a supreme work of art

    The novel has long been canonical. Pevear and Volkhonsky realize the poetry of Tolstoy's Russian to give non-Russian-readers a sense of how deserved is the novel's canonical status.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 23, 2007

    A reviewer

    I feel like a phillistine admitting that I have never been able to get through War & Peace. This translation of the russian is much better than previous ones, but it still has the problem of the french language used. To read the french translation, you have to go to the footnotes. Then you lose sense of who was talking going back and forth. Why could the translators not have translated the french in the main text? They translated it anyway. I finally gave up in frustration and regretted spending that much on the book.

    4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2007

    Well Worth the Time

    Given War and Peace's reputation, it was a little intimidating to pick up. It starts out slow, but if you can stick with it, it is an amazing story and actually goes quite fast after you get to know the characters. My daughter and I had a bet on how long it would take to read. She thought 6 months. I was done in a month and a half just reading daily before bed. This is a classic for a reason. Everyone should read it once in their lives.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2009

    Great!

    This book is translated by the best Russian team ever. It's perfect!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2007

    The Master of the Novel

    I recently read War and Peace for the first time. The length of this 'loose baggy monster' as Henry James once described it always prevented me from tackling the famed novel. This was a mistake. Anyone who has read the equally great Anna Karenina can attest that Tolstoy grabs hold of the reader from the first and never fails to 'yes' entertain as well as provoke seemingly endless ideas about family, war, society, economics etc. This novel will haunt you from the first. Tolstoy's image making/evocation is unsurpassed. He will describe a place or person or thing or event, such as several notable battles and your mental image will crystalize with a clarity that is unmatched by other novelists. The shear ambition of this novel is stunning. Numerous characters who are all interesting, set pieces to fill many novels. Even when Tostoy's story is put on hold for essays on Napoleon or other subjects you will find yourself riveted. It seems strange to call this novel a page turner, but it is. It is a 'monster', a wildly entertaining ride through the heart and soul of Russia and in the end all of us. This may be the greatest novel ever. I know you hear that with other novels as well, however, this is one work that can make a claim to encompassing everything and all of us.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2011

    No excuses anymore to read a great book...

    If you've put off reading "War & Peace" due to its length and reputation, you have the chance with this new translation to redeem yourself. This translation is eminently readable and is a major step forward over previous translations, according to my book club friends. While the translation can do nothing about the formidable length, the time taken to cover that length is enjoyable, even intoxicating at times. If there are weaknesses, they are the common ones attributed to "War & Peace," the heavy reliance on French by the upper class Russians, especially in the beginning chapters (which was historically accurate) and the historical essays that initially provide an intriguing commentary on the battles with Napoleon but bring a stultifying conclusion to an otherwise brilliant work. By the way, my version was an e-book version, and while it was a relief not to have to lug the printed book with me on my train commute everyday, the historical and translation footnotes are all handled by hyperlinks which are tiring to access in an e-book with its primitive cursor placement. Still, highly recommended.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2010

    Pay for the Pevear translation- - this is not it

    Spend a few extra bucks and get the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. This is a book I've read every few years since I was 11. 30 years later, it's more relevant than ever. Tolstoy is simply unequaled in his mastery of plot, characters and understanding what really matters. If you've never read it, read it! If it's been a few years, read it again!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 1, 2010

    Great translation of a novel usually on the short list for greatest novel ever written

    There's something absurd about reviewing a novel nearly 150 years old which is one of the most famous and best regarded ever written.

    Let me just say that Tolstoy's genius is his ability to find his way into to the heads of some many different kinds of people -- from the young Natalia Rostov first falling in love to her brother Nikolai's iniital reaction to combat to the old general Bolkonsky moving increasingly into senility. The plot moves from battle scenes to ballrooms, and it is breathtaking that Tolstoy is equally at home as a writer. The man also had experience in both. *Count* Leo Tolstoy was a Russian aristocrat who was no stranger to the daily life of the aristocracy and also had served as a soldier in the siege of Sevastopol (about which he wrote Sevastopol Stories).

    I can't read Russian, but the translation is highly readable in English and a Russian lit professor I know -- also a native Russian speaker -- thinks that Pevear and Volokhonsky are very good.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 1, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    True work of art

    This book was incredible! The plot was completely engaging from start to finish. Tolstoy went to great lengths to research historical documents about the War of 1812 to create this work of historical fiction, and the result allows the reader to become immersed in a novel filled with both an intricate suspensful plotline and one which brings the war of 1812 and the culture of Russia during that time period to life. The recount of certain battles like the one at Borodino and the depiction of the French Army's invasion of Moscow and later on their retreat is rendered with great detail and although the novel is not a historical work, and even Tolstoy himself claims the novel is not even a 'novel', the images he creates give the reader a sense of closeness to the events that happened and what life was like in Russia during that time period. The story itself is captivating, with a multitude of characters and families that all become connected in some way. Scandal, romance, passion, treachery, this novel has it all up until the very end. Tolstoy at times injects his own viewpoints on the role of historians in society and the weaknesses inherent in their reasoning for why events happened the way they did. This dialogue can be tough to get through at times, but it was only a minor hindrance in the progression of the overall storyline. The length of the novel was appropriate given the amount of character development, plot details, and depictions of the war itself and its aftermath. Overall a true masterpiece, quite a pleasure to read this one. For those that cannot read the work in its original language, it is an absolute necessity to get the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, which translate it as faithfully as possible without abridging the french language passages scattered throughout the novel, and with an endless array of endnotes, summary, glossary of historical names, to keep the reader informed of the countless historical and cutural references within the novel. This novel is a Must-Read!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

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    Enjoyable; Never Boring

    Fantastic book. Don't be scared by the length. Tolstoy keeps you engaged. Reading it now for the second time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2012

    Reputations.

    I'm so glad I bought this book!! This is an amazing novel, and I highly recommend this novel to any avid reader! :D

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2012

    War and Peace

    Essential Classic...Excellent translation. Note: It is hard to see the * for French, Russian, or German after the sentence using the Nook. I read the first 100 pages without realizing that Volokhonsky had translated every sentence or phrase!

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  • Posted April 1, 2012

    THIS IS NOT, REPEAT NOT, the Pevear / Volokhonsky translation!

    THIS IS NOT, REPEAT NOT, the Pevear / Volokhonsky translation! This is the Constance Garnet translation. Do NOT buy if you want the Pevear / Volokhonsky translation.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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