Robert Chandler

Witness for the prosecution | 17 April 2019

Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate (completed in 1960) has been hailed as a 20th-century War and Peace. It has been translated into most European languages and also into Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Turkish and Vietnamese. There have been stage productions, TV series and an eight-hour BBC radio dramatisation. And Grossman himself — like Leo Tolstoy,

Doctor Zhivago’s long, dark shadow

For most Russians, Boris Pasternak is one of their four greatest poets of the last century. For most Anglophone readers, he is the man who won the Nobel Prize for Doctor Zhivago. The first four chapters of The Zhivago Affair give a full picture of Pasternak’s life and the Soviet literary world up until the

The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories, by Nikolai Leskov – review

Though underestimated in the English-speaking world, Nikolai Leskov is one of the greatest of 19th-century Russian writers. Donald Rayfield has described him as ‘Russia’s best-kept secret’. Richard Pevear’s excellent introduction to this selection includes Anton Chekhov’s account of how Leskov — ‘his favourite writer’ — said to him at the beginning of his career, after

On the verge of extinction

This book, by the architectural historian Richard Davies, is remarkable in many ways — for the importance of its subject matter, for the excellence and variety of the many photographs, and for the imaginative choice of the accompanying texts. The fruit of ten years of long and difficult journeys in the far north of European

Ultimate issues

In his preface to this anthology of brief memoirs, Robert Silvers suggests that its ‘invisible, tragic core’ is to be found in an account by Isaiah Berlin of one of his several meetings with Boris Pasternak. Pasternak told Berlin how Stalin had once telephoned him to ask him two questions: had Pasternak been present when

Searching for a saviour

The central themes of Russian history have remained constant for over a millennium.  Russia’s vast spaces and lack of any natural borders have always made her inhabitants terrified of invasion. And to protect the country against invaders, and to preserve its unity, Russia’s rulers seem always to have felt it necessary to assert their authority

A kind of tenderness

The son of a grocer, Anton Chekhov was born in 1860 in Taganrog, on the Sea of Azov. While studying medicine at Moscow university, he published hundreds of comic sketches in order to pay his way and support his parents and siblings. After becoming famous in the late 1880s, he practised as a doctor only

Art of Translation

David Bellos is a professor of comparative literature. He is the main English translator of George Perec and Ismail Kadare, and he has written biographies of Perec, Jacques Tati and the French writer and con man Romain Gary. His most recent book, for which he draws on all his wide range of interests, is a

An open and shut case

Harvey Pitcher has been translating Chekhov and writing about him for much of the last 40 years. His earlier publications include a book about Chekhov’s plays and a portrait of Chekhov’s wife. His Chekhov: The Comic Stories (Deutsch, 1998) is the best translation of the still undervalued early stories. The present volume is a discussion

Out of the woods

These two memoirs by ladies born into the Russian elite in the 1880s have both had to wait many decades before publication in English. The Green Snake, however, has gone through eight editions in its original German, whereas The Russian Countess has never been published before. No one was in the least interested in a