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A Hero of Our Time

A Hero of Our Time

4.3 21
by Mikhail Lermontov, Nicolas Pasternak Slater, Andrew Kahn

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'After all that - how, you might wonder, could one not become a fatalist?' Lermontov's hero, Pechorin, is a young army officer posted to the Caucasus, where his adventures - amorous and reckless - do nothing to alleviate his boredom and cynicism. World-weary and self-destructive, Pechorin is alienated from those around him yet he is full of passion and romantic


'After all that - how, you might wonder, could one not become a fatalist?' Lermontov's hero, Pechorin, is a young army officer posted to the Caucasus, where his adventures - amorous and reckless - do nothing to alleviate his boredom and cynicism. World-weary and self-destructive, Pechorin is alienated from those around him yet he is full of passion and romantic ardour, sensitive as well as arrogant. His complex, contradictory character dominates A Hero of Our Time, the first great Russian novel, in which the intricate narrative unfolds episodically, transporting the reader from the breathtaking terrain of the Caucasus to the genteel surroundings of spa resorts. Told in an engaging yet pointedly ironic style, the story expresses Lermontov's own estrangement from the stifling conventions of bourgeois society and the oppression of Russian autocracy, but it also captures a longing for freedom through acts of love and bravery. This new edition also includes Pushkin's Journey to Arzrum, in which Pushkin describes his own experiences of Russia's military campaigns in the Caucasus and which provides a fascinating counterpoint to Lermontov's novel. ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Natasha Randall's English, in her new translation, has exactly the right degree of loose velocity. . . . (Nabokov's version, the best-known older translation, is a bit more demure than Randall's, less savage.)" 
-James Wood, London Review of Books 

"[A] smart, spirited new translation." 
-The Boston Globe 

"One of the most vivid and persuasive portraits of the male ego ever put down on paper." 
-Neil LaBute, from the Foreword

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I was traveling post from Tiflis. My cart's entire load consisted of one small valise, which was half filled with travel notes about Georgia. Of these, the greater part, fortunately for you, have been lost, and the valise containing my remaining possessions, fortunately for me, is intact.

The sun was already beginning to drop behind the snowy ridge when I rode into the Koyshaur Valley. The driver, an Ossetian, drove the horses tirelessly in order to make it up Koyshaur Mountain by nightfall, singing songs at the top of his voice. A glorious spot, this valley! On every side of the mountain are impregnable reddish cliffs hung with green ivy and crowned with clusters of plane trees, yellow precipices scoured by running water, and there, high up, a golden fringe of snows, while below, the Aragva, having embraced another nameless stream gushing noisily from a black, mist-filled gorge, has stretched out like a silver thread and shimmers like a snake with scales.

When we reached the foot of Koyshaur, we stopped at an inn. Here, crowded noisily around, were a score of Georgians and mountaineers; close by, a caravan of camels had halted for the night. I was obliged to hire oxen to drag my cart up this accursed mountain because it was already autumn and the roads were icy--and this mountain was nearly two versts long.

There was nothing to be done for it: I hired six oxen and several Ossetians. One of them hoisted my valise on his shoulders, the others began helping the oxen with their shouts--and nothing more.

Behind my cart, a team of four oxen was pulling another with the greatest ease, despite the fact that it was piled high, to the very top. This circumstance amazed me. Walking behind the cart was its owner, who was smoking a small Kabardian pipe set in silver. He was wearing an officer's overcoat without epaulets and a shaggy Circassian hat. He seemed to be about fifty; his swarthy complexion showed that he was long familiar with the Caucasian sun, and his prematurely gray whiskers were not in keeping with his firm step and robust countenance. I walked over to him and bowed in greeting; he returned my bow without speaking and released a huge puff of smoke.

"You and I are fellow travelers, it seems."

He again bowed, without speaking.

"You must be on your way to Stavropol."

"Exactly so...with government property."

"Tell me, please, why is it that four oxen are pulling your heavy cart easily, while six beasts can scarcely budge my empty one, even with the help of these Ossetians?"

He smiled slyly and gave me a significant look.

"You doubtless have not been in the Caucasus long."

"About a year," I replied.

He smiled a second time.

"But what is the matter?"

"What's the matter! Horrible brutes, these Asiatics! You think they're helping by shouting? The devil only knows what they're shouting! The oxen understand them; you could harness up a score of them and still, if they shouted in their way, the oxen would never budge. Horrible swindlers! But what can you expect from them?... They enjoy fleecing the travelers who pass through. The rogues have been spoiled! You'll see, they're going to get a tip from you as well. Oh, I know them, they can't fool me."

"Have you served here long?"

"Yes, I served here under Alexei Petrovich," [Ermolov] he replied, assuming a dignified air. "When he arrived at the frontier, I was a second lieutenant," he added, "and under him I received two promotions for actions against the mountaineers."

"And now you are...?"

"Now I'm counted with the Third Frontier Battalion. And you, may I be so bold as to ask?"

I told him.

At this the conversation ended, and we continued to walk in silence, side by side. At the mountain's summit we found snow. The sun set and night followed day without interval, as usually happens in the South; however, thanks to the reflection off the snow, we could easily distinguish the road, which was still going uphill, although no longer as steeply. I ordered my valise placed on the cart and the oxen exchanged for horses, and for the last time I looked back down on the valley--but a thick mist, which surged in waves from the gorges, had covered it completely, and not a single sound reached our hearing from there. The Ossetians had gathered volubly around me and were demanding tips; but the staff captain shouted at them so menacingly that they scattered instantly.

"You see, what a nation," he said. "They can't say 'bread' in Russian, but they've learned 'Officer, give me a tip!' To my mind, the Tatars are better than this; at least they don't drink."

It was another verst or so to the station. All around it was quiet, so quiet that from the buzzing of a gnat you could follow its flight. On the left lay a deep black gorge; and beyond it and in front of us dark blue mountain peaks, furrowed with creases and covered in layers of snow, were outlined against the pale skyline, which was still clinging to the sunset's last reflection. In the darkening sky, stars began to flicker, and oddly, they seemed much higher than in our North. On either side of the road jutted bare black rocks; here and there I caught glimpses of shrubs under the snow, but not a single dry leaf rustled, and it was cheering to hear, amid this lifeless dream of nature, the snorting of the weary post troika and the uneven tinkle of the little Russian bell.

"Tomorrow will be glorious weather," I said. The captain said not a word in reply but pointed to the tall mountain rising directly across from us.

"What is that?" I asked.

"Mount Gud."

"Well and what of it?"

"Look at how it's smoking."

And indeed, Mount Gud was smoking; down its sides slid light streaks of clouds, and on its peak lay a black cloud, so black it looked like a blot on the dark sky.

We had already made out the post station, as well as the roofs of the huts surrounding it, and before us twinkled welcoming lights, while we smelled the damp, cold wind, heard the gorge's rumble, and felt the fine rain. Scarcely had I managed to throw my felt cloak on when the snow began coming down. I looked with awe at the captain.

"We're going to have to bed down here," he said with annoyance. "In a blizzard like this you aren't going to cross the mountains. What do you say? Have there been avalanches on the Mountain of the Cross?" he asked the driver.

"No, there haven't, sir," replied the Ossetian driver, "but there's a lot hanging, a lot."

For lack of a room at the station for those passing through, we were given lodging in a smoky hut. I invited my companion to have a glass of tea with me, for I had brought along an iron teakettle--my sole indulgence on my travels through the Caucasus.

One side of the hut was built into a cliff; three slippery, wet steps led to its door. Groping my way in, I bumped into a cow (the cowshed with these people takes the place of the servant's room). I didn't know where to turn: sheep were bleating here; a dog was growling there. Fortunately, a dim light glowed at one side and helped me to find another doorlike opening. Here a fairly entertaining picture was revealed: the large hut, whose roof rested on two smoke-blackened posts, was full of people. In the middle flickered a fire that had been laid on the bare earth, and the smoke, pushed back by the wind from the opening in the roof, was spread around in such a thick shroud that for a long time I could not get my bearings. By the fire sat two old women, numerous children, and one lean Georgian, all in rags. We had no choice, so we took shelter by the fire and lit our pipes, and soon the kettle began to hiss sociably.

"A pathetic lot!" I said to the captain, indicating our filthy hosts, who were looking at us silently, in a kind of stupor.

"A very stupid nation," he replied. "Would you believe it? They don't know how to do anything, they're incapable of any kind of education! At least our Kabardians or Chechens, brigands though they are, and paupers, are daring devils, whereas these haven't even a mind for weaponry. You won't see a proper dagger on a one of them. Ossetians for certain!"

"And were you in Chechnya very long?"

"Yes, I was stationed ten years at a fort there with my company, near Stone Ford. Do you know it?"

"I've heard tell."

"You know, friend, we got good and tired of these cutthroats; nowadays, thank heavens, it's quieted down, but it used to be, you'd go a hundred paces beyond the rampart, and some raggedy devil would be sitting somewhere keeping watch: a moment's heedlessness and watch out--it's either a lasso around your neck or a bullet in the back of the head. Brave lads they are!"

"You must have had your share of adventures," I said, prompted by curiosity.

"That I have!"

At this he began to finger his left mustache, hung his head, and became pensive. I had a terrible urge to drag some little tale out of him--a desire characteristic of all traveling, note-taking men. Meanwhile, the tea was brewed; I took two field cups out of my valise, poured one, and placed it in front of him. He took a sip and said, as if to himself, "Yes, that I have!" This exclamation gave me great hopes. I know, the old Caucasians, they love to talk, to tell a story; so rarely do they get the chance. A man might be stationed a good five years somewhere in the back of beyond with his company, and for five whole years no one would say how do you do (because a sergeant major says good day). But there was plenty to talk about: surrounded by a savage, curious nation, in danger every day, there can be marvelous incidents, and you can't help but regret that our people write down so little.

"Wouldn't you like a drop of rum?" I said to my companion. "I have white from Tiflis; it's cold now."

"No, sir, I thank you, but I don't drink."

"Is that so?"

"Yes, it is. I made myself an oath. Back when I was a second lieutenant, once, you know, we'd had a drop too much among ourselves, and that night they gave the alarm; so we went out on parade tipsy, and did we ever catch it when Alexei Petrovich found out: God forbid how angry he got! Nearly turned us over for trial. One thing's for certain, spend a whole year when you don't see a soul, and if you've got vodka there, too--you're a goner."

Hearing this, I almost lost hope.

"At least the Circassians, you see," he continued, "when they drink too much young wine at a wedding or a funeral, that's when the knives come out. Once I had a narrow escape, and I was the guest of a friendly prince."

"How did it happen?"

"Well"--he filled his pipe, drew on it, and began his tale--"you see, it was like this. I was stationed at the time in a fort beyond the Terek with my company--this is nearly five years hence. One day, in the autumn, a convoy arrived with supplies, and traveling with the convoy was an officer, a young man of about twenty-five. He reported to me in full uniform and announced he'd been ordered to remain with me at the fort. He was very thin and very fair, and he was wearing a uniform so new I guessed right away he was only recently with us in the Caucasus. 'I suppose,' I asked him, 'you were transferred here from Russia?' 'Precisely so, sir,' he answered. I clasped his hand and said, 'Very pleased to meet you, very pleased. You'll find it a little dull, but I think you and I can get along like friends. And please, just call me Maxim Maximich, and please--what's the point of this full uniform? Always wear your uniform cap when you come to see me, that will do.' He was taken to his quarters, and he got settled at the fort."

"What was his name?" I asked Maxim Maximich.

"His name...was Grigory Alexandrovich Pechorin. Splendid fellow he was, I'll be so bold as to assure you; only a little odd. For instance, in the rain and cold, an entire day hunting, you see, anyone would get chilled and tired--but he was just fine. But another time he'd be sitting in his room, there'd be a whiff of wind, and he'd assure me he was going to catch cold; a shutter would rattle and he'd tremble and turn pale; but as I'm a witness he went out for wild boar all alone; there'd be times you couldn't get a word out of him for hours on end, and other times he'd start telling stories so that your belly was like to burst from laughter. Yes indeed, he had great eccentricities, and he was probably a rich man. He had so many different precious trinkets!"

"Did he stay with you long?" I asked again.

"Oh, nearly a year. And that's a year I'll surely remember; he caused me a lot of trouble, but that's not what I'll remember him for! You see, there are, truly, people the likes of whom are fated to have all kinds of unusual things happen to them."

"Unusual?" I exclaimed with a look of curiosity as I poured him some more tea.

"Look, I'll tell you a story. About six versts from the fort lived this one friendly prince. His precious son, a boy of about fifteen, fell into the habit of riding over to see us. Every day he might come for one thing or another; and Grigory Alexandrovich and I certainly indulged him. What a daredevil he was, clever at anything: picking up a hat at a full gallop, firing a rifle. One thing about him wasn't so good: he had a terrible weakness for money. Once, for a joke, Grigory Alexandrovich swore he'd give him a gold piece if he'd steal the best goat from his father's herd. And what do you think? The next night he dragged it in by the horn. But sometimes, if we got a notion to tease him, his eyes would get all bloodshot and he'd put his hand right on his dagger. 'Hey, Azamat, it'll cost you your head,' I would tell him. 'It'll be yaman for your noggin!'

"One day the old prince himself came to invite us to a wedding. He was marrying off his oldest daughter, and I was his kunak, so you know we couldn't refuse him, even if he was a Tatar. We set out. At the village a lot of dogs met us with a loud howling. The women saw us and hid; those whose faces we did manage to see were no beauties. 'I had a much better opinion of Circassian women,' Grigory Alexandrovich told me. 'Just you wait,' I replied, chuckling. I had something of my own in mind.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Natasha Randall's English, in her new translation, has exactly the right degree of loose velocity. . . . (Nabokov's version, the best-known older translation, is a bit more demure than Randall's, less savage.)"
-James Wood, London Review of Books

"[A] smart, spirited new translation."
-The Boston Globe

"One of the most vivid and persuasive portraits of the male ego ever put down on paper."
-Neil LaBute, from the Foreword

Meet the Author

Nicolas Pasternak Slater has translated several works by Boris Pasternak, most recently The Family Correspondence, 1921-1960 (Hoover Press, 2010). Andrew Kahn has written widely on Russian literature. His books include The Cambridge Companion to Pushkin (2006) and Pushkin's Lyric Intelligence (OUP, 2008, pbk 2012). For Oxford World's Classics he has edited Pushkin's The Queen of Spades and Other Stories and Montesquieu's Persian Letters.

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A Hero of Our Time 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
SirSpanky More than 1 year ago
A Hero of our Time, is a story of a man named Pechorin who goes on many different adventures all over the former Soviet Union while he is traveling on a government errand. He stops off in many different places, each one having a different surprise waiting for him: love, adventure and near death experiences. The first time I heard anything about this book, was from my Russian teacher who had us read one section from the book about a year ago. After I read that one section of the story, I loved it so much that I decided I had to read the whole book. I am a huge fan of the Odyssey and for me, A Hero of our Time, is a book that follows the same kind of storylines about different adventures that cocky, self-confident, superfluous Pechorin under goes. Sometimes it is hard to follow who is narrating the story but that is the only real draw back of the book. Having lived in Ukraine and read this story, it helped me relive some of my fondest memories of friends that I made there because of the way that Lermontov really describes the Russian personalities of the characters in the book. All of the events that happen in the story are actual events that Lermentov underwent in his real life and then published in his work. Without giving anything away, I have to say I think it is pretty funny some of the predicaments that Perchorin gets into. Over all if you are looking for a fun, adventurous read I would highly recommend picking up this book. It is not long whatsoever, but can get a little dry at parts. But if you want to be able to strike up a conversation and have some common ground with any Russian make sure you read this. It is extremely popular in Russian culture, every Russian knows about this book! You will not be disappointed when you finish reading; it is worth at least checking out if nothing else.
THEBOOKISHONE More than 1 year ago
Mikhail Lermontov introduces one of the most complex characters in literary history. As a reader, you will both love and hate Pechorin. This is one of the most gratifying works I have ever read. Witty, philosophical, and audacious, A Hero of Our Time illustrates the intricacies of human desire, love, betrayal, and fate. It is Pechorin's perception of his own existence that makes him a truly unique figure. Plus, the dialogue supplied by Lermontov is nothing short of superb. A must read!
WhisperingStories 12 months ago
Lermontov was a Russian army officer, an artist and a writer, principally of poetry but also some prose including this work. A Hero of Our Time was eventually published as a novel although it is five short stories linked by the central character Pechorin and told by two different narrators. Two of the stories were previously published as stand-alone works. The book starts with an introduction by Neil Cornwell which I found very useful to explain the make-up of the book and the nature of Russian popular fiction at the time. There is also an Author’s Preface which Lermontov added to the second edition apparently in response to criticisms of the book when it was first published. I do not speak or read Russian so I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the translation but the text reads easily. The story is set in the Caucasus Mountains and is full of detail about the terrain, the local people and the lives of the Russian nobility who travelled to the spas in that area. Lermontov tends to mock those society travellers although I could not help thinking that they would also be a large part of his intended audience. He has peppered both books with quotes from previous European literature including Shakespeare, Balzac, Goethe, Byron and his compatriot Pushkin which would have resonated with his audience and given credibility to his own status as an educated man. This claims to be the first volume in English to contain both A Hero of Our Time and Princess Ligovskaya which is an unfinished novel written earlier. Both books feature Pechorin and both feature a Princess Ligovskaya but not the same lady which is a little confusing. I found this abandoned novel a bit of a tease as the setting and the characters were promising but of course we never reach the conclusion of the story. Although I enjoyed the historical viewpoint, A Hero of Our Time will probably not appeal to all contemporary readers. I have therefore awarded three stars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the best boks in the world.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
a hero of our time is one of the memorable stories I have ever read and it still haunts me with its beauty. In a Quixotic Lermontov effortlessly takes the reader through the beauty of the Caucasian mountains wrapped up with the richness of Pechorin's experiences who is a young officer, an idealist turned cynic. It has been close to a decade since I last read this book, yet it continues to top the list of my favourite books.In a way everybody can relate to this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To those interested in reading this book in English: you have to be at least acquainted with Russian history and literature of the time, and especially a very complex figure of M. Lermontov as the brightest represenatvie of such in the post Pushkin times. For the most part his poetry and prose are autobiographic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you want to read a brilliant psychological masterpiece, you can't find much better than 'A hero of our time'
Guest More than 1 year ago
A short work of great power. Satirical, tragic, and lovely written. Lermontov takes you inside the charectors head and leaves you disgusted. A must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
an anti-hero before there were anti-hero's. exciting page turner. The way he sets up each chapter is as remarkable as the hero or should I say anti-hero. I Read it in one night which is remarkable for a twenty-five- year old male
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this brilliantly written novel the protagonist, Pechorin, is a ruthless and selfish individual. He seemingly cares for nothing, certainly not his own life, but while he is alive he figures to refrain from boredom at any cost. This book is written as a peek at a few sections of Pechorin's diary not as a simple story. This allows for a amazing amount of detail on particular individual events that allow the reader to understand the character intimately. 'Notes from Underground' is similar in this fashion. Pechorin is a man who seems to be immoral by all standards, regardless of what 'Time' is being referred to in the title. Pechorin is a man who has an incredible philosophic understanding of his self and rejects all societal decencies. Pechorin is his own man. A 'Hero' because of his independence and his conviction to act in accord with his reason and no one elses.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Mikail Lermontov/A Hero of our Time is a bad book in my opinion. It's about a Russian leader who went to different city's in Asia and Europe and met differnt people. Some people were Bela, who was a girl that was basicaly owned by Pechorin a hunter. Bela was very sweet but died in her twenties. She was stabbed and died a day later. this book is one of the worst books I have ever read. By the way the main character is Maxim Maximych. The first chapter is about Bela and then the second is about Maxim Maximych. The next to were about Taman a town in Russia and a day to day diary on princess Mary. The last chapter is about the fatalist and you will have to read the book to find out who it is. I would not suggest this book to kids or teenagers but maybe to adults. Its not a easy read and sometimes you don't know what their talking about. I don't think there are any real history in this book.