Monday, 27 July 2015

The Belkin Tales by Aleksander Pushkin (4/5)

First published: 1830
Original title: Повести покойного Ивана Петровича Белкина
Original language: Russian
Translation to Swedish by: Eugen von Sabsay and C. Sterzel

Page count: 112
GoodReads says: Ivan Petrovich Belkin left behind a great number of manuscripts... Most of them, as Ivan Petrovich told me, were true stories heard from various people.

First published anonymously in 1830, Alexander Pushkin’s
Tales of Belkin contains his first prose works. It is comprised of an introductory note and five linked stories, ostensibly collected by the scholar Ivan Belkin. The stories center variously around military figures, the wealthy, and businessmen; this beautiful novella gives a vivid portrait of nineteenth century Russian life.

It has become, as well, one of the most beloved books in Russian literary history, and symbolic of the popularity of the novella form in Russia. In fact, it has become the namesake for Russia’s most prestigious annual literary prize, the Belkin Prize, given each year to a book voted by judges to be the best novella of the year.
I say: I read four of the short stories in a Swedish translation before finding the last one in an English translation, which, unfortunately, somewhat affects the way I thought of them; mainly because I hate reading Swedish translations. The reason I did so now was because I could download the Swedish translation from the Swedish library, whereas the Newcastle library didn’t have it (they barely have any Russian books here).

Having said all that, I do realise that the story remains the same in each language, but since I am a huge fan of words in and of themselves, it does affect my reading experience if I find the translation choppy and laborious – which I did with the Swedish translation of the first four stories. This was only heightened when I read the English translation, so I will write another review when I have read all the stories in English.

And on to the review.

I really liked all of the stories, which are presented in a foreword as having been told to Pushkin by Belkin. None of the stories have anything to do with Belkin - or each other (apart from, as the synopsis says, they “center variously around military figures, the wealthy, and business men” in nineteenth century Russia – other than having been told to him previously. I always find it hard reviewing short story collections without going into too much detail about each story, so I’ll say that a couple of them had predictable endings whereas the other three surprised me. There are some humorous passages and sentences sprinkled into the stories as well as descriptions of the bleak Russia that I have come to love.

I am very much looking forward to reading more of Pushkin’s works, in English, and will revisit this collection to give a better review in the future. 

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