New and Novel

A lot of early 20th century Moscow, Paris (through Russian eyes) and Berlin this week, though also some interstellar travel, 21st century Berlin and more.

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Black Snow by Mikhail Bulgakov

After being saved from a suicide attempt by the appearance of a literary editor, the journalist and failed novelist Sergei Maxudov has a book suddenly accepted for stage adaptation at a prestigious venue and finds himself propelled into Moscow’s theatrical world. In a cut-throat environment tainted by Soviet politics, censorship and egomania – epitomized by the arrogant and tyrannical director Ivan Vasilyevich – mayhem gradually gives way to absurdity.

Unpublished in Bulgakov’s own lifetime, Black Snow is peppered with darkly comic set pieces and draws on its author’s own bitter experience as a playwright with the Moscow Arts Theatre, showcasing his inimitable gift for shrewd observation and razor-sharp satire.

Translated by Roger Cockrell

Published by Alma Classics

Read more about the book here

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Hard to Be a God by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are widely known as the greatest Russian writers of science fiction, and their 1964 novel Hard to Be a God is considered one of the greatest of their works. Yet until now the only English version (unavailable for over thirty years) was based on a German translation, and was full of errors, infelicities, and misunderstandings. Now, in a new translation by Olena Bormashenko, whose translation of the authors’ Roadside Picnic has received widespread acclaim, here is the definitive edition of this brilliant work. It tells the story of Don Rumata, who has been sent from Earth to the medieval kingdom of Arkanar, with instructions to observe and to influence, but never to directly intervene. Masquerading as an arrogant nobleman, a dueler and a brawler, Don Rumata is never defeated but can never kill. With his doubt and compassion, and his deep love for a local girl named Kira, Rumata wants to save the kingdom from the machinations of Don Reba, the First Minister to the king. But given his orders, what role can he play? Hard to Be a God has inspired a computer game and two movies, including Aleksei German’s long-awaited swan song. This long-overdue translation will reintroduce one of the most profound Soviet-era novels to an eager audience.

Translated by Olena Blumberg

Published by Chicago Review Press

Read more about the book here

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Subtly Worded by Teffi

Teffi’s genius with the short form made her a literary star in pre-revolutionary Russia, beloved by Tsar Nicholas II and Vladimir Lenin alike. These stories, taken from the whole of her career, show the full range of her gifts. Extremely funny – a wry, scathing observer of society – she is also capable, as capable even as Chekhov, of miraculous subtlety and depth of character.

There are stories here from her own life (as a child, going to meet Tolstoy to plead for the life of War and Peace‘s Prince Bolkonsky, or, much later, her strange, charged meetings with the already-legendary Rasputin). There are stories of émigré society, its members held together by mutual repulsion. There are stories of people misunderstanding each other or misrepresenting themselves. And throughout there is a sly, sardonic wit and a deep, compelling intelligence.

Translated by Robert Chandler and Anne Marie Jackson

Published by Pushkin Press

Read more about the book here

Read a short story by Teffi in B O D Y

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Readux Series #3

To read about the new series see the Literalab post on Arthur Eloesser here and then read the title essay from Eloesser’s Cities And City People in B O D Y.

Photo – Old paperback cover of previous English translation (which was from the German) of Hard to Be a God, a cover which, incidentally, doesn’t make it look very hard, unless the hard part is that all these beautiful woman are just so small (I haven’t read the book yet, I admit it!)

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Categories: Books

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