Friday, June 11, 2004

I actually bought the Oprah-approved Anna Karenina yesterday; it was all I allowed myself from a freelance check that I uncharacteristically devoted to an overdue bill, a little reward you might say. I'm thinking of giving myself another reward: the new Magnetic Fields disc, as I find myself liking 69 Love Songs more every time I listen to it. I was wrong to diss it earlier. I thought it was sappy, and it made me think of John Belushi smashing Stephen Bishop's guitar in Animal House for playing "I gave my love a cherry." Now I think it's sappy, sentimental, gooey music of genius. Not just heart on the sleeve, but brain on the sleeve, balls on the sleeve. Nice image. Anyway, I'm listening to it now. There's a song on it I cannot quit playing called "Come Back from San Francisco," which has these great lines in it:

Come back from San Francisco
And kiss me, I've quit smoking.
I miss doing the wild thing with you.

Anyway, about Oprah's Anna. Tasteful persons everywhere will be pleased to know it has a detachable Oprah banner, so you don't have to embarrass yourself reading in public. I loved the book the first time and always wanted to read it again, and everyone raved about this Pevear-Volokhonsky translation when it came out.

Personally, not knowing Russian, I can't tell a good translation from a poor one. It might "read well," but you don't know if that's because of the writer or translator. Russian scholars have told me that Gogol wrote in very long, flowing sentences that are sliced and diced into smaller ones by his translators, and that translators actually improve Dostoevsky, who reads worse in Russian than he does in English.

I read the Pevear-Volokhonsky translations of Gogol's Dead Souls and Dostevsky's Demons and liked them both enormously; I thought Demons was a really great novel -- the best of all Dostoevsky's major work, in my opinion -- and actually I preferred their Dead Souls to the one by Guerney, so adored by the meticulous Nabokov, who knew the language intimately. All of which goes to remind me once again that my own taste isn't to be trusted, that I won't know which is live and which is Memorex until I settle down to learn Russian myself, and that reading anything translated is simply an act of hope and faith.

Can't say I'll read this "with" Oprah -- how does one do such a thing? And what is next for her? Ulysses? Finnegans Wake? I kind of have this picture of her addressing her audience and saying "Oh that Finnegan! Don't you just want to shake him sometimes and say `Wake up!'"

No comments: