The Complete Short Novels Paperback – Aug 30 2005
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Praise for previous translations by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky:
“The reinventors of the classic Russian novel for our times.” —PEN/BoMC Translation Prize Citation
“Their translations have become the standard English-language texts.” —Newsday
The Brothers Karamazov: “One finally gets the musical whole of Dostoevksy’s original.” —The New York Times Book Review
Anna Karenina: “The most scrupulous, illuminating and compelling version yet.” —The Oregonian
From the Inside Flap
Anton Chekhov's short novels are here brought together in one volume for the first time, in a masterly new translation by the award-winning translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Chekhov, widely hailed as the supreme master of the short story, also wrote five works long enough to be called short novels. "The Steppe-the most lyrical of the five-is an account of a nine-year-old boy's frightening journey by wagon train across the steppe of southern Russia to enroll in a distant school. "The Duel sets two decadent figures-a fanatical rationalist and a man of literary sensibility-on a collision course that ends in a series of surprising reversals. In "The Story of an Unknown Man, a political radical plans to spy on an important official by serving as valet to his son, however, as he gradually becomes involved as a silent witness in the intimate life of his young employer, he finds that his own terminal illness has changed his long-held priorities in startling ways. "Three Years recounts a complex series of ironies in the personal life of a rich but passive Moscow merchant, engaging time as a narrative element in a way unusual in Chekhov's fiction. In "My Life, a man renounces wealth and social position for a life of manual labor, and the resulting conflict between the moral simplicity of his ideals and the complex realities of human nauture culminates in an apocalyptic vision that is unique in Chekhov's work.
In these five short novels, Chekhov's masterful storytelling and his profound understanding of human nature are brilliantly evinced.
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I ordered this expecting a couple of great novellas and maybe a few makeweight bits of juvenilia or flawed experiments. I was delighted therefore to discover that all five tales are magnificent.
While they may not traditionally have been regarded as novels in their own right - particularly alongside some of the famously heavyweight classics of Russian literature - the relatively limited length of these stories (generally around 100 pages) actually makes them seem rather modern.
I won't bother with synopses, but will simply urge you to read them. The Steppe is an out-and-out classic by any standards, and to my surprise The Duel is perhaps my favourite, cleverly going against what you might expect from such a title so that it ends up as a sort of anti-Pushkinesque account of tremendous humanity and understanding of human weaknesses and foibles.
The Story of An Unknown Man is highly unusual and even puzzling - we are given a great set up with a nobleman slumming it as a servant apparently in search of some sort of revenge, then it wanders off in a completely different direction as if Chekhov had stuck two completely different novels together.
Three Years is perhaps the weakest of the five novellas, but the building atmosphere of frustration and claustrophobia will be of interest to anyone familiar with Chekhov's plays.
The final tale, My Life is wonderful. As the title suggests, it manages to boil down what would take a lesser writer 500 pages into 90 or so of intense, human emotion.
Oh, and if you can read The Duel without being overcome by a desire to go and make fish soup outside, you have a stronger will than I do.
Recommending Chekhov is pointless. If you at all aware of the fact you are a human being you cannot fail to love him and be in awe of his ability as a writer.