Smoke Paperback – Apr 19 1995
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About the Author
Born in Orel in central Russia in 1818 Ivan Turgenev studied at the universities in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Berlin and worked briefly for the civil service before turning to writing. He wrote several novels that examined the social, political and philosophical issues of the time as well as many plays and short stories. Living mainly in Baden-Baden and Paris Turgenev was acquainted with a variety of influential writers and met Dickens and Trollope among others on his travels to England. He was widely perceived to be the first major Russian writer to achieve great success in Europe. Turgenev died in Paris in 1883. The subtitle of Richard Garnett's biography (reissued in Faber Finds) of his grandmother, Constance Garnett (1861-1946) is A Heroic Life. It couldn't be more apt. She remains the most prolific English translator of Russian literature: twelve volumes of Dostoevsky, five of Gogol, six of Herzen (his complete My Past and Thoughts), seventeen of Tchehov (her spelling), five of Tolstoy, eleven of Turgenev and so on. Many of these will be appearing in Faber Finds. In all she translated over sixty works. It is not, however, the sheer quantity that is to be celebrated, though that in itself is remarkable, it is more the enduring quality of her work. Of course there have been critics - translation is a peculiarly controversial subject, but there have been many more admirers. Tolstoy himself praised her. Of her Turgenev translations, Joseph Conrad said 'Turgeniev (sic) for me is Constance Garnett and Constance Garnett is Turgeniev'. Katherine Mansfield declared the lives of her generation of writers were transformed by Constance Garnett's translations, and H. E. Bates went so far as to say that modern English Literature itself could not have been what it is without her translations. This extraordinary achievement was accomplished despite poor health and poor eyesight, the latter being ruined by her labours on War and Peace ,a tragic if fitting sacrifice; hers indeed was A Heroic Life.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
However, a scene in chapter 26 (which gives the book its name) features one of the loveliest passages I have yet encountered in literature. It is a brief passage in which Litvinov, the main character, returning to Russia with his spirit crushed by the circumstances of his ill-fated trip to Baden-Baden, has a reverie prompted by the sight of the smoke he sees outside the train window. As is often the case with Turgenev's writing, it is a simple scene but one laden with humanity and warmth.
(BTW: It is also worthwhile to examine this book in connection with Leonid Tsypkin's "Summer in Baden-Baden" which discusses the meeting there between Turgenev and Dostoevsky.)
It also bothers me that the publisher that reprinted, with more typos than you'd expect, a Garnett translation beyond copyright protection instead of hiring someone to do a more credible job. (I don't know how good of a translation this is, but Garnett's reputation is not one of fidelity.)