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Archive for March, 2006

The Kreutzer Sonata

This novella by Tolstoy was made into a play and performed by our local theatre group last year. The best part of the play was the playing of the sonata by two wonderful musicians in period costume; however, I don’t think the material was really right for a play. The play proceeded exactly as the book, with a narrator meeting a strange character on a train and listening to his long tale of woe. The device works in the story, but in the play it is a distraction.

I just finished Anna Karenina and am struck anew by the way that Tolstoy can get inside a person’s head, into their very thinking process. The last scenes of Anna’s life are so well done: she hesitates between life and death, she imagines death and draws back from it, she imagines that she might still choose to be happy and then by a circular process she returns to the point where death is the only way out. And those last lines of her life, “And the candle by the light of which she had been reading that book filled with anxieties, deceptions, grief and evil, flared up brighter than ever, lit up for her all that had once been in darkness, sputtered, grew dim, and went out for ever.

Now, from the other translation: “And the light of the candle by which she had read the book filled with troubles, falsehoods, sorrow, and evil flared up more brightly than ever before, lighted up for her all t hat had been shrouded in darkness, flickered, began to grow dim, and was quenched forever.”

Along with the above, I read some bits of another translation of AK to see if I could notice any great differences, especially since this new translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky has gotten so much attention. The differences are pretty subtle, but the only other translation I could find was an updated version of Constance Garnett’s now discredited attempt. I suppose if I were to read the Garnett version again in the original, the differences would be more noticeable to me.

It’s an interesting topic, especially because KAP recently reviewed a new translation of “Kristin Lavransdatter” while deriding the older version as hopelessly dated and ureadable. I loved the book when I read it a long time ago, and I’m sure it was in the older, dated translation. I didn’t have any trouble with it, but then I like to read Victorian novels, too.

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The Devil in the White City, by Eric Larson

Well, I didn’t care much for this book, either the premise or the writing. Not that he’s a bad writer, I just hated the coy way he kept alluding to evil or disasters to come, “only Poe could have thought up the rest”, stuff like that. It got tedious after awhile. And, the story of the serial killer seemed grafted onto the more interesting World’s Fair story with the back-and-forth motif wearing thin rather quickly. It was as if he felt he needed the murderer to sell the rest of the story to us. On the contrary, the murderer’s tale could have been told much more succinctly. The fact that he couldn’t resist dragging in the Titanic disaster as well gave me the impression of someone without the discipline to edit his own work. On the other hand, the many famous characters who had something to do with the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was fascinating and he did a good job of capturing the personalities and difficulties and what was at stake.  Some of the people involved or touched by the Fair:  Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, Theodore Dreiser (of course!), Frederick Law Olmstead, all the most famous architects of the day, even Mark Twain except that he came to Chicago, was ill, and spent the entire time in his hotel room, going home without even visiting the fair. As the author says, “of all people.” I especially loved the Ferris Wheel story – something so commonplace today, that was the centerpiece of the Fair and the invention to rival the Eiffel Tower in Paris (also built for a World’s Fair type exposition).  Another minor tidbit but even more fascinating was the fact that Walt Disney’s father was a carpenter or electrician who worked on the Fair. Now, that explains a lot! It explains a certain dated, fantastical yearning at the core of the Disney creations. It explains the whole fake, glamorous, pseudo-scientific soul of those worlds, worlds that Disney dragged forth from the previous century.

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