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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.
I have shed so many tears on the pages of my copy of this book that I am surprised it is still holding up as well as it is. There is a sensitivity and beauty to this text that I have never been able to find anywhere else, even in other works by Dostoevsky. It is, quite simply, the most masterful examination of agape (active love), faith, and justice, and redemption that I have ever encountered in my life, in philosophy, history, literature, film, or otherwise. There are no words to offer that can capture how profoundly this book has changed me for the better.
The Richard Peaver & Larissa Volokhonsky translation of The Brothers Karamazov is good. It's being marketed as the best, but it really isn't. There is not a 'best' translation of Dostoyevsky, or really, any other Russian author I've researched; no, there isn't a 'best' translation of a book that I know of. To my understanding the Peaver translations usually stick incredibly close to the original source material, which is a double edged sword; most people want a translation that doesn't loose something or other in translation. This one is very close to doing so, but as I said it's a double edged sword; they leave in the syntax, and a very foreign syntax at that. This can cause problems for a casual reader, but it wasn't a problem for me. What really matters is the readers personal preference. I will add the first sentence of the P&V, McDuff, and Garnett translations to see which one you'd most like:
"Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of a land owner from our district, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, well known is his own day (and still remembered among us) because of his dark and tragic death, which happened exactly thirteen years ago and which I shall speak of in its proper place." - P&V
"Aleksey Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of a landowner in our district, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, so noted in his time (and even now still recollected among us) for his tragic and fishy death, which occurred just thirteen years ago and which I shall report in its proper context." - McDuff
"Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a landowner well known in our district in his own day, and still remembered among us owing to his gloomy and tragic death, which happened thirteen years ago, and which I shall describe in its proper place." - Garnett
Moving on to the edition I have. It's ISBN is 978-0374528379, but it is the best selling edition as of 8/1/2017; you probably won't have any trouble finding it. This paperback is a great durable edition. I kept it in my backpack for school each day for basically the entire second semester without too much serious wear (check the photos to judge yourself). The font is big enough to read well without straining your eyes... or at least it was for me. It's still holding together nicely is what I'm trying to say. The binding is glued, too; if you didn't know. This edition has a cover in which I will describe as rough-soft feeling; I enjoyed holding it in my hands.
Finally, sorry for the poor camera quality. The soda can piece is there to show how big the text is in comparison. The torn piece on the back is from a mishap I am accountable for not the book, although it says something about the books durability; it happened near the end of my usage with it.