Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fortnightly Book, June 15

The Fortnightly Book this time around is Alexander Solzhenitsyn's August 1914. It was the first 'fascicle' of Solzhenitsyn's The Red Wheel series, which has since included October 1916 (also known as November 1916 due to differences between the Julian and the Gregorian calendars), March 1917, and April 1917. The whole novel-cycle was to describe the dissolution of the Russian Empire and the rise of the Soviet Union. August 1914 itself focuses on the Battle of Tannenberg, in which the massive Russian Second Army was disastrously defeated by the German Eighth Army; the Germans killed or wounded nearly eighty thousand Russian soldiers and captured more than ninety thousand more. The Germans would go on systematically to defeat the Russian First Army, as well, making the battle a textbook case of defeat-in-detail, the process of defeating an opponent by bringing massive forces to bear on fractured portions of the enemy forces.

There are two different versions of the novel, one published in the 1970s, and one in the 1980s; the latter is a much larger book that includes material that had been suppressed in the original and that Solzhenitsyn decided to add later. As it happens, the version I have on my shelves is a 1972 translation by Michael Glenny, so I have the earlier version. This contemporary review by Simon Karlinsky suggests that Karlinsky was less than impressed by Glenny's translation:

Glenny's approach to the problems involved in translating Solzhenitsyn may be demonstrated by citing a passage from the prose poem "Lake Segden" (Solzhenitsyn himself calls these short pieces "tiny stories"). An anonymous but reasonably accurate translation appeared in the Intellectual Digest in April, 1971: "There's the place where one would like to settle forever. . . . There one's soul, trembling like the air, would course between water and sky, and clean, profound thoughts would flow." And here is Glenny's version of the same passage as printed in "Stories and Prose Poems": "Here is somewhere to settle forever, a place where a man could live in harmony with the elements and be inspired." This, in a nutshell, is the manner in which most of "August 1914" has been translated into English.

Long, convoluted sentences are simplified and cut into bite-size chunks; passages of stream-of-consciousness in which the narration shifts from the third person to first or second are erased by transposing everything into the third person: rapid, staccato, elliptic exclamations are converted into matter-of-fact, smooth, neutral English; and poetic imagery is systematically eliminated or toned down throughout the text.

Karlinsky suggests that it should be described as 'paraphrased' or 'adapted' by Michael Glenny, rather than translated by him. So, probably not the version you'd want if you wanted the Solzhenitsyn experience; but, again, it's the version I happen to have on my shelves, having been given to me by grandfather when I was in high school, so it is the version for the Fortnightly Book.

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