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Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Writer's Life 6/8 - Translation

When reading a work originally written in a foreign language, it is impossible to separate the author from the translator, to gauge how faithful the end product is to its source. Such is the case with Mikhail Bulgakov's The White Guard, translated by Michael Glenny. I found the prose very odd in many places. Did Glenny transcribe it exactly or did he take liberties? If not, he should have, although it probably wouldn't matter to anyone but finicky writers. Despite the rough, unfinished feel, the novel is valuable and often riveting. It takes place in the Ukraine, largely during December of 1918. Curiously, although the setting is obviously Kiev, Bulgakov refers to it simply as "the city." I wonder if his thinking was similar to how I approached my latest novel, Five Cents. Since I was relying on memory, and because I took liberties, I chose to dub the town Kazoo instead of Kalamazoo. Enough speculation. In The White Guard a civil war is underway and chaos rules. The focus is on the Turbans, a middle class family aligned with the Tsar. The older brother, a doctor, is a medical officer, the younger, a teenager, a cadet, the sister the wife of an officer. Will they survive the peril? One segment rose above all the others - the recovery of the body of a heroic soldier from a warehouse where hundreds of dead people are stacked. One aspect was puzzling and never resolved - the mysterious figure of Petlyura, who leads a large band of followers and elicits the fierce passions of detractors and supporters. Is he a myth or perhaps a literary symbol? I've never been good at analyzing symbolism, so I won't comment on that. I Googled his name and found that he actually existed. He was a writer, journalist, politician, and the leader in the fight to keep the Ukraine independent, out of the hands of the Bolsheviks. He eventually had to flee the country. He ruled during a time of pogroms but was never directly tied to them. He was assassinated in Paris in 1926 by a Jewish anarchist. Bulgakov abandoned medicine and moved to Moscow, where he became involved in theater. His The Days of the Turbans was based on the novel and made him famous. He remained in the USSR despite the fact that his works were never published there. Oddly, he was protected by Stalin, who viewed the play numerous times and recognized the author's worth. Bulgakov may have been executed if not for the head red - how bizarre is that? He wrote 10 works of fiction, four books of plays, and a bio of Moliere. He died in 1940 at 48. His most famous work is The Master and Margarita, hailed as a masterpiece, which was also translated by Michael Glenny. Mick Jagger has said it was the inspiration for Sympathy for the Devil. Glenny has two other credits, both translations of Russian books. The White Guard was first published in Paris in 1927-'29. It seems to be in the midst of a revival. A paperback edition is ranked 116,046 at Amazon at last check. There are at least 13 million books listed at Jeff Bezos' behemoth. 53 readers have rated the novel, forging to a consensus of 4.1 of five. The hardcover edition I read is just under 300 pages. It was published by McGraw-Hill in 1971. By no means an easy read, it is eminently worthwhile. (Facts from Wiki)

The FedEx Guy put a smile on my face today, donating two books: The Destruction of Hillary Clinton by Susan Bordo and The Working Class Republican: Ronald Reagan and the Return of Blue-Collar Conservatism by Henry Olsen. My thanks, and also to the gentleman who bought Catherine Coulter's Nemesis, and to the woman who purchased two books in Russian, one a Spanish-Russian dictionary.
Vic's Sixth novel: 
Vic's Short Works:

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