The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Translators) - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

All Agog

The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol

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In 1829, at the age of twenty, Nikolai Gogol found his voice as ‘Rudi Panko, beekeeper’; just over a decade later, his genius was drowned by other voices in his head, convincing him that he was an instrument of God. Dead Souls, three fine comedies, and a score of stories, of which a dozen – such as The Nose, The Diary of a Madman and The Overcoat – begot the Russian novel and have left their mark on all Europe, were produced in ten years by one of the most unfathomable minds and most spellbinding narrators in literary history. Shrewd observer, Romantic dreamer, idiot savant, parodist, or a comic Dante, Gogol still eludes all categories. Of all classic Russian writers he is also the most challenging to translate. Not only does he garner vocabulary from the backwoods of his country and from his own Lewis Carroll-like fantasy, but he spins sentences so ingeniously that the most absurd imagery and fanciful chains of thought are tightly bound by impeccably controlled syntax. He had an intimate knowledge of such unliterary subjects as card games, tailoring and cuisine: his descriptions of clothes and food are as arousing as any pornographer’s descriptions of sex.

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