27 May 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by Aleksandra Fazlipour on Red Spectres, a kind-of-creepy collection of Russian short stories by authors including Valery Bryusov, Mikhail Bulgakov, and Aleksandr Grin, from Angel Classics.

Aleksandra is a former independent-study student of Chad’s, and contributes pretty regularly to Three Percent. Here’s a bit of her review:

Muireann Maguire’s Red Spectres is a stunning and engaging collection of eleven Russian gothic tales written by various authors during the early Soviet Era, all but two stories of which are featured in English for the first time ever. These are not your usual ghost stories, told for cheap thrills around a campfire. Instead, I found myself puzzling over these tales for far longer than I normally would while reading a short work of fiction, and several nights I awoke from dreams—nightmares?—eerily similar to what I had read the night before.

Maguire’s translation is the most noteworthy feature of each tale, transforming relatively simple stories into remarkable works of fiction. While the stories themselves are simple, they have been made immeasurably chilling, exciting, and memorable. And what’s interesting to note, as written on the Angel Classics webpage, is that this type of Gothic-fantastic genre did very well for itself in the early 20th century, despite official efforts to shut it down.

For the rest of the review, go here

27 May 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

Muireann Maguire’s Red Spectres is a stunning and engaging collection of eleven Russian gothic tales written by various authors during the early Soviet Era, all but two stories of which are featured in English for the first time ever. These are not your usual ghost stories, told for cheap thrills around a campfire. Instead, I found myself puzzling over these tales for far longer than I normally would while reading a short work of fiction, and several nights I awoke from dreams—nightmares?—eerily similar to what I had read the night before.

Maguire’s translation is the most noteworthy feature of each tale, transforming relatively simple stories into remarkable works of fiction. While the stories themselves are simple, they have been made immeasurably chilling, exciting, and memorable. And what’s interesting to note, as written on the Angel Classics webpage, is that this type of Gothic-fantastic genre did very well for itself in the early 20th century, despite official efforts to shut it down. I don’t want to spoil the tales for you by describing each of them. I doubt that I will be able to convey them as wonderfully as Muireann Maguire has, but here is a passage from one of the tales, “The Red Crown” by Bulgakov . . .

“I’ve become used to everything: to our white building, the twilight, the ginger cat that comes and scratches at my door. But I cannot get used to his visits. The first time it happened I still lived downstairs, in room 63: he appeared out of the wall, wearing his red crown. Nothing about him frightened me: he looks just the same in my dreams. But I know perfectly well that if he’s wearing the crown, he must be dead. And then he spoke, moving dry lips clotted with blood. He parted his lips, came to attention, raised his hand to his crown, and said:

‘Brother, I can’t leave the squadron.’

And every time since the first time, the same thing happens. He arrives in his soldier’s blouse with the ammunition-belts over his shoulder, with his curving sabre and spurs that never jingle; and he says the same words. First he salutes. And then:

‘Brother, I can’t leave the squadron.’

How he frightened me the first time! He scared the entire clinic. It was all over for me then. I’ve figured it out rationally: if he’s wearing the crown, he’s been killed, and if a dead man comes and speaks to me, I must be mad.”

The translator here manages to convey the narrator’s sense of confusion and subsequent acceptance beautifully, but in other stories (and in fact, in other places in the same tale) conveys the sense of panic and frantic secrecy, allowing the reader to experience the chaos characteristic not only of the Russian gothic genre, but of early twentieth century Russia itself in the aftermath of two revolutions and a civil war. Maguire is skilled because she allows the reader to experience the seven different authors in the same volume, and each unique voice is preserved. The storytelling seems deliberately just vague enough to entertain separate readings of the same story, where ghosts and insanity and alternate realities are equally possible and the reader gets to choose.

The stories in Red Spectres, featuring authors such as Georgy Peskov, Valery Bryusov, and the aforementioned Mikhail Bulgakov, are exciting and full of possibility. And, upon subsequent re-readings . . . somehow, brilliantly, these eleven translated short stories can easily transform into twice as many tales, if not more—no doubt the way the masters of Russian gothic literature who invented the stories intended them to be.

15 December 08 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

The Ukrainians and the Russians both claim Bulgakov as one of their own:

The identity crisis arises it seems because although Bulgakov was born in what is now Ukraine’s capital, a city he immortalized in his first novel The White Guard, the playwright and novelist was ethnically Russian, wrote in Russian and moved to Moscow when he was 21. So, while in a recent poll of Russians, the author of The Master and the Margharita was named the country’s second greatest writer, in similar poll in Ukraine, he was claimed as Ukraine’s third best playwright. The mixed opinions on nationality aren’t any less muddy elsewhere in the world of letters. Take, for example, Bernard Shaw – described as an Irish dramatist despite living in England most of his life – or Polish-born Tom Stoppard, who is nearly always referred to as a British playwright.

I don’t know what occasioned this little article in the Guardian, but what occasioned my post about the article is Marian Schwartz’s excellent new translation of The White Guard, which one should definitely buy.

12 September 07 | E.J. Van Lanen | Comments

I stumbled across this site a few years ago and had forgotten about it, but was reminded of it again today by Coudal Partners. It’s a web-based annotation to Bulgakov’s chef-d’oeuvre:

These Master & Margarita pages are intended as a web-based multimedia annotation to Bulgakov’s novel.

You won’t find the full text of the novel here, as it is still under copyright and no one in his right mind would want to read a 300-page novel online in any language. Curling up with the novel, preferably in a basement apartment in front of a fire on a moonlit night, is highly recommended.

You won’t find a summary of the novel here either, and it’s unlikely the site will make much sense as a whole if you don’t read the novel. You can’t use this site like Cliff’s Notes.

It’s an awesome resource if you’re interested in understanding the novel on a different level. It even has a little analysis of the available translations, which is pretty cool:

Mirra Ginsburg (Grove Press, 1967) Ginsburg’s translation is lively and entertaining, but it was unfortunately made from the 1967 Soviet text without the advantage of the censored sections. As a result, it mirrors the censored version, including deletion of passages about the actions of the secret police and most of Nikanor Ivanovich’s dream (Ch. 15).

Michael Glenny (Harper & Row, 1967) Glenny’s translation restores the passages that were missing from Ginsburg’s. Both translations were done so quickly after publication of the Russian original that they lack much critical depth. Both, for example, miss the crucial inclusion of the Devil in Berlioz’s thought: “It’s time to throw everything to the Devil and go to Kislovodsk.” Ginsburg has “drop everything” and Glenny “chuck everything up.”

Diana Burgin & Katherine Tiernan O’Connor (Ardis, 1995) Burgin and O’Connor’s translation is by far the best, if one is interested in studying what Bulgakov really wrote. They have the advantage of some 30 years of Bulgakov scholarship, which they take into consideration in their translation, which gets details right. The notes, provided by the Bulgakov scholar Ellendea Proffer, are also invaluable.

Richard Pevear (Penguin, 1997) There appears to be a new translation by Richard Pevear, but I have not yet seen it.

7 September 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Over at About Last Night there’s an interesting discussion about the merits of the various translations of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, especially the Mirra Ginzburg one versus the one from Michael Glenny.

Seems most people like the Glenny best, although I think both have issues. This follow-up about “sneakers” versus “slippers” is interesting as well.

21 August 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Over the weekend, The Guardian ran James Meek’s intro to the new edition of A Dog’s Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov.

Generally overshadowed by The Master and Margarita, A Dog’s Heart sounds really interesting, especially in Meek’s description of an underground reading that was infiltrated by secret police informer:

The bulk of the audience seem to have hoped that Bulgakov’s new novel, A Dog’s Heart, would similarly mock the rickety state of affairs that Vladimir Lenin’s heirs had inherited. It did. Bulgakov’s tale of a professor who implants the sexual organs and pituitary gland of an evil man into a good mongrel, creating a loutish man-hound who fits with ease into communist society, went down well. The anonymous informer’s outraged report to his masters describes how one passage, where the professor complains that the Russian revolution coincided with the theft of galoshes from the communal hallway, provoked “deafening laughter”.

Of course, this was all reported to the authorities, and Bulgakov’s publisher refused to publish the manuscript, which was then stolen in a raid, returned in 1929, and finally published in 1987.

On the face of it, A Dog’s Heart looks like an act of extreme courage, if not recklessness. Bulgakov was exposed. He was a member of the officially reviled bourgeois class. His foppish dress by Bolshevik standards – the bow ties, the monocle – didn’t help. The voice of his published writings was of a patriot who believed Russia had taken a wrong turning in 1917, and believed it was his duty to do something about it. He was aware that the Soviet authorities had heard him, knew that they were being mocked and did not like it. If The White Guard offered the comfort to the Kremlin of representing an elegy for the death of middle-class tsarist Russia, The Fatal Eggs and A Dog’s Heart seemed to propose terminal flaws in their own, communist project.

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