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The Brothers Karamazov Paperback – June 14, 2002
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“[Dostoevsky is] at once the most literary and compulsively readable of novelists we continue to regard as great . . . The Brothers Karamazov stands as the culmination of his art--his last, longest, richest and most capacious book. [This] scrupulous rendition can only be welcomed. It returns to us a work we thought we knew, subtly altered and so made new again.” ―Donald Fanger, Washington Post Book World
“It may well be that Dostoevsky's [world], with all its resourceful energies of life and language, is only now--and through the medium of this translation--beginning to come home to the English-speaking reader.” ―John Bayley, The New York Review of Books
“Heartily recommended to any reader who wishes to come as close to Dostoevsky's Russian as it is possible.” ―Joseph Frank, Princeton University
“Far and away the best translation of Dostoevsky into English that I have seen . . . faithful . . . extremely readable . . . gripping.” ―Sidney Monas, University of Texas
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Russian
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The Brothers Karamazov presents the same challenge for every English translator; namely, Dostoevsky took pride in creating distinct voices and syntax for each of his characters, and most translations have sacrificed the syntax and voicing to make it more readable - in the process losing much of the tone of each character. Pevear's translation is known for being the truest to the original, as it replicates the syntax with an almost academic precision. However, in being so true to the syntax and voicing, Pevear leaves sentence structures that are so unfamiliar-sounding to the native English speaker as to be disruptive. Many times as I read this translation I found myself jolted out of the flow of reading because the phrasing felt so awkward. As an example of a difficult sentence:
Pevear: "These occasions were almost morbid: most depraved, and, in his sensuality, often as cruel as a wicked insect, Fyodor Pavlovich at times suddenly felt in himself, in his drunken moments, a spiritual fear, a moral shock, that almost, so to speak, resounded physically in his soul." Compare that to
McDuff "These were instances that almost seemed to involve some morbid condition: most depraved, and in his voluptuous lust often brutal, like an evil insect, Fyodor Pavlovich would on occasion suddenly experience within himself, in his drunken moments, a sense of spiritual terror and moral concussion that echoed almost physically, as it were, within his soul".
This is a good example of the tradeoffs each translator makes. Generally: Pevear's is tight, precise, uses simple language and is truest to the original and punchy sentence structure. It requires a high tolerance for odd syntax. McDuff's uses a broader vocabulary (e.g. "moral concussion"), but his flow/ear is much more natural to most English speakers. The sacrifice is that McDuff uses probably 5%-10% more words, but I personally believe these additions make it far more readable. It is still generally true to the sentence structure, but by taking a quarter step away from the purist version, he sheds much more light on the underlying text than Pevear.
Based on research, other reviewers and my own experience: if you are familiar with Russian, Pevear is for you. If you value precision, read for words instead of flow, or are better able to tolerate difficult phrasing than difficult vocabulary, then Pevear is for you. If you are more comfortable with a wider repertoire of words, and typically read with a background sense of the "flow" of each sentence, I believe McDuff will be far more readable while maintaining all the essence of the original work.
"Alexey Karamazove become (not a typo) the 0.33 son of Fyodor Karamozov, a landowner well known in our district in his personal day..."
The next paragraph continues in such an awkward way that the very sense of the writing is lost, much less the beauty of the writing. This ebook should be pulled from the Amazon offerings.
Pilgrim Classics states that this is an open book meaning you can get it for free but that they edit it so that it's good for the Kindle but to be honest, it's a mess and I would have been better off downloading the book for free without their additions (or truncations) to it.