Anton Chekhov was a master of the short story. However, he gets poor treatment by the Interwar Period translations of Constance Garnett. I first came to dislike Garnett’s Russian translations while discovering the writings of Fyodor Dostoevsky. The great Russian writers all have very distinctive writing styles and Constance Garnett succeeded in making them sound like Victorian era British novelists. She is known for her very fast, “smoothed over” style of translation in which difficulties in the original are simply dropped from the work. This is simply not the way to get the flavor of the great Russian writers. I can only surmise that the decision to go with the Garnett translation of these stories rested upon the economics of public domain versus newer, licensed translations.
My preference would be for one of the modern translations, and in particular the Pevear/Volokhonsky translations are wonderful. They are quite literal and maintain a strong sense of the “Russianness” of the works. They don’t Westernize, they don’t turn Russians into Latins, they don’t turn a perhaps unfamiliar “liturgy” into a familiar “mass”. Instead, they provide ample endnotes to ellucidate the aspects of Russian culture and history which are likely to be opaque to the Western reader.
With a poor translation as the foundation for this audio book, I still held out hope for a powerful reading. Unfortunately, the problems were only compounded by poor production choices made by reader/producer Max Bollinger.
As others have noted, the sound effects are disruptive and unnecessary. They fail to add ambience or a sense of place—in the first track applause continues so long as to become a sort of static or perhaps the sound of waves breaking constantly against some monotonous shoreline. This disruptive aesthetic continues throughout the disc. The reading, itself, also fails to achieve its potential, feeling uninspired and flat—or in the case of the voiced characters, comical and irritating. Given the mediocre reading, the last hope is for a voice that is at least not objectionable, but here again, Bollinger’s English-Russian accent is somewhat peculiar and at times is simply difficult to comprehend. None of this makes for a pleasant, let alone meaningful reading of the book.
Anton Chekhov deserves reading. He deserves listening, too, but not by means of this disc.
[Originally written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.]
Max Bollinger. Short Stories by Anton Chekhov. Max Bollinger Sovereign, 2009. CD.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I was not required to write a positive review, and… um… didn’t. The opinions I have expressed are my own, though they may seem to have the force of a natural law. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”