All serious readers know that one day they should tackle Tolstoy’s War and Peace but many put it off: too long, complicated names, chunks of philosophical digression...
In fact, like Dickens’ novels, the book is just a soap opera, but choosing the right translation can make a big difference to your enjoyment. Although there are already more than a dozen in print, two new versions have been battling it out - with some hostility - in 2007.
Although British translator Andrew Bromfield’s “concise” version (Ecco Press) may sound more tempting, it is the Pevear-Volokhonsky version (published by Knopf) which is causing huge excitement with its bold approach to language. For example, the Russian kapli kapali which has always been translated along the lines of the descriptive “raindrops dripped from the trees” is here rendered as “drops dripped” hence conveying the compactness (yes!) of Tolstoy’s language and that this is a sound heard in the dark. The US-Russian husband and wife team Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky live in Paris and turned another Tolstoy great, Anna Karenina, into a best-seller when their translation was promoted by Oprah Winfrey.
You have time on your hands now you have moved to Normandy, the winter evenings are long - time to give it a go.
New translation by the acclaimed translators Richard Peaver and Larissa Volokhonsky:
'Concise' version with a happy end, translated by Andrew Bromfield (NOT the traditional text):
Pictures: Tolstoy barefoot by Ilya Repin (left) and Napoleon battling the Russians by Vassili Vereshchagin (right).
© Review published in December, 2007, issue of the Rendezvous magazine.