As we mentioned earlier, Ecco and Knopf have competing editions of Tolstoy’s War and Peace out now. Newsweek covers the controversy, and even manages to mention a few things about the art of translating. Overall, they favor the Knopf edition:
Currently two publishers are feuding over rival editions of a book that was published—well, the publication date is one of the things they’re feuding about. Last month Ecco Press brought out a much shorter version of Tolstoy’s masterpiece about Russia during the Napoleonic Wars, translated by Andrew Bromfield. This edition constitutes Tolstoy’s first attempt at the novel, which he published in 1866 in a Russian literary magazine. Tolstoy would spend another three years revising and enlarging his initial vision, ultimately producing the much longer novel familiar to modern readers. That is the version being published this month by Knopf and newly translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the couple whose earlier translation of “Anna Karenina” became a best seller when Oprah Winfrey picked it as one of her book-club titles in 2004.
In the months leading up to publication, the two publishers took a few potshots at each other, with Knopf editor LuAnn Walther accusing Ecco of making “a serious mistake.” Walther even asked Pevear to draft a response to the Ecco version. Lately both houses have scaled back the rhetoric. Daniel Halpern, Ecco’s publisher, settled for saying in a recent interview that “anything that gets Tolstoy into the headlines has to be viewed as good news.” Walther refuses to comment further on the fracas. “It’s time to let the critics decide,” she says. But she does address what is perhaps a more pertinent question for the general reader: why does the world need yet another translation of “War and Peace,” and why now? “Because,” she says after a long pause, “it’s the greatest book ever written, and it’s never been done like this before. Because all the previous translations left things out and got things wrong. Because it is a great moment to be reading Tolstoy, because we’re at war. And because Richard and Larissa were willing to do it.”
“Rambling Jack—what’s that?”
“A novel. Novella, I guess.”
“Yeah, it looks short. What is it, a hundred pages?”
“Sorta. It’s a duel language book, so really, only about… 50 pages total.”
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