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Eugene Onegin: Translation By Douglas R. Hofstadter Hardcover – April 22, 1999

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New edition edition (April 22, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465020933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465020935
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #934,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The supreme poet of the Russian language, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin has had a checkered existence in English. His prose, to be sure, has presented his translators with a less formidable set of hurdles. But Pushkin composed his masterpiece, Eugene Onegin, in a 14-line stanza of his own invention, with a slippery rhyme scheme and treacherously foursquare meter (i.e., iambic tetrameter, which tends to sound slightly singsong to English speakers). This has forced most of his translators--from Walter Arndt to James Falen to Charles Johnston--to shortchange form in favor of content. Vladimir Nabokov probably pushed this tendency as far as it could go, transforming Pushkin's poetry into perversely lumpy paragraphs (and enveloping the slim pickings of his translation in a jumbo-sized commentary). But nobody has managed to produce even a halfway-definitive version of Eugene Onegin.

Now Douglas Hofstadter, who's best known for Gödel, Escher, Bach, has taken a shot at it. Certainly he's no stranger to translation theory--his 1997 book, Le Ton Beau de Marot, was a brilliant and unbuttoned meditation on the translator's art, with numerous detours into the hinterlands of cognitive science. Theory and practice are two different matters, however, as Hofstadter is quick to admit: "The thought seemed quite ridiculous: me, with such sparse knowledge of Russian, hoping to clamber up this formidable Everest of translation, a book often said to be next to untranslatable, and square at the center of the inner circle of Russian literature!" Clamber he did, however--and the result is a charming if uneven version of the poem, more beholden to Cole Porter and Ogden Nash than the poet's 19th-century peers. Several of Hofstadter's slangier couplets might have Nabokov spinning in his grave: "Did thus our party boy exhaust / Himself at games, at zero cost?" Still, he manages some of Pushkin's loop-the-loops very nicely:

The air grew warm as days went flying,
And winter knew to call it quits.
Eugene gave up his versifying,
But not the ghost, and not his wits.
He's lent new life by buds aborning,
And first thing on some clear spring morning
He leaves his cloistered, small château
Where, marmot-like, he'd braved the snow.
Clearly Hofstadter's take on the poem goes heavy on the sizzle and fails to capture much of Pushkin's elegant gravity. Still, it's a welcome addition to the ranks, a handsome present to the poet on the occasion of his 200th birthday--and, rather winningly, a linguistic labor of love. --William Davies

From Booklist

The first, most famous, and greatest novel in verse is the best known--by Russians--work in Russian literature, Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. Englished many times in this century, here it is again by the author of the 1979 intellectual best-seller Godel Escher Bach, who prefaces his handiwork with a delightful explanation of the novel's verse form, how he came to translate it, his procedure as a basically non-Russian-speaking translator, and his travels, thanks to an American descendant of Pushkin, to the poet's St. Petersburg apartment, in which he translated the novel's last stanza. Pushkin's story of a rich, bored young man who rather offhandedly destroys his chance at love by killing a friend in a duel and alienating his would-be beloved is equally delightful in Hofstadter's sparkling, breezy version that catches the novel's combination of wry, Austenish provincial romance and Byronic irony, digressiveness, and satire. Comedy doesn't come more ultimately tragic, nor tragedy more bitterly comic. Many thanks to Hofstadter for a job well done, just in time for the Pushkin bicentennial. Ray Olson

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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By brady kelso on June 29, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I am currently reading Hofstadter's new translation of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin and I must say it's one of the finest translations I've read. While I have yet to read the Falen translation, I've read others, including Nabokov's, and Hofstadter's seems the freshest, the most vigorous, and certainly the most enjoyable. What a splendid job he's done. The introduction on how he worked with the original is a "must read" for anyone interested in the joys and pitfalls of translation work.
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Grant Goodman on October 16, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Hofstadter is a brilliant man, with no ear for poetry. One aspect of human intelligence that computers have some hope of matching is pattern recognition. This, perhaps, has led computer scientist Hofstadter to value pattern (rhyme, meter) in poetry at the expense of sense and, above all, tone. Both in this translation and in his fascinating and infuriating "Le Ton Beau de Marot" he shows a near-complete obliviousness to the nuances of tone that words bring with them. Try the Falen translation instead.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By cerenoc on July 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Some of the reviews above as well as the NYT book review blasted the work for being bad poetry. I would agree that, yes, Hofstadter may not have the greatest ear for artistic language and the translation often sounds heavy-handed in English, whereas every single word in the original is light as a feather. As I recall, DF acknowledges the drawbacks of his version in his intro and praises some other work, notably Falen. Nevertheless, being fluent in both English and Russian, I think this translation is an incredible achievement. While the James Falen translation is usually better in language, what Hofstadter has done here - faithfully mimic every single beat of the rhyme - is enourmously difficult. It is by far the best way for a foreigner to see how the verses really sound in the original.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover
My best advice to you (the prospective reader) would be to consult the complete New York Times Review before even thinking about buying this so-called translation. Mr. Hofstadter has wide-ranging interests, and his enthusiasm is laudable, but it is sadly not married to a disciplined or artistic sensibility. He has no ear for language; he thinks that poetry is merely a matter of sing-song rhythm and relentless rhyme; he has no sense of the magical qualities of certain words in certain combinations. This is an amateur's hack-job of a translation, made more egregious by the arrogance of the translator.
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