Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita

Mirra Ginsburg

I'm re-reading Mirra Ginsburg's translation of The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, a novel that I first read thirty years ago when I was immersed in Russian literature and reading everything that I could get in English.

In those jejune days, I didn't think about translators and translations, but now that I'm something of a translator myself, I think about these things every time that I pick up a foreign book in English, wondering what has been lost and gained.

Thus only this time, in taking Bulgakov off its dusty place on my shelf, did I wonder who Ginsburg was. From the Jewish Women's Archive, I learned that she was born in Russia in 1909, and from the following paragraph, which I quote from that archive, I infer that she was an interesting if difficult individual whose talents extended beyond literature:
Bohemian and fiercely individualistic, Mirra was intrigued by every kind of artistry. She herself painted, did metalwork, made jewelry and did intricate papercuts. Until her last years, she often entertained widely diverse gatherings of creative people at her home and took full advantage of New York’s theater, especially Yiddish and Asian theater, as well as ballet and concerts. Mirra didn't travel much but she once flew on the Concorde to visit friends in France, for she had friends all over the world who corresponded with her and visited her when in New York. Her childlike openness and curiosity extended to every nuance of life; her opinions were uncompromising.
That final clause suggest that she wasn't one to brook contradition, so I might not have found her a ready conversationalist . . . even if she were to have had some interest in speaking with me. Too late to find out, though, for she died in 2000.

Anyway, I'm re-reading her 1967 translation, but I think that I'll need to obtain a new one and read it after I finish this, which was based on a text that had been censored by the Soviet Union when it was published in the magazine Moskva in 1966.

Perhaps I should get several translations and read them sequentially until I find the one that I most enjoy. Or maybe I should just read the 1995 translation by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor since it has annotations by Ellendea Proffer.

Or do any Bulgakov aficionados have better suggestions?

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At 7:47 AM, Blogger Le Mc said...

I'm not a Bulgakov expert but I loved M & M. You should try it in graphic novel form.

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's a graphic novel, too? In English, I hope...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:46 AM, Blogger Le Mc said...

It's published by Self Made Hero. Art by Klimowski and Schejbal. It doesn't say who the translator is.

At 3:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It looks interesting. Thanks for the suggestion.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read this book at least 25 times since I first discovered it over 30 years ago in 8th grade.
The translation I read had an illustration of a fat black cat holding a gun on the cover.
I just read the Ginsburg translation and don't care for it as much.
I'd love to find the copy I used to own.

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eleanor, that's about the time that I discovered Bulgakov, too, but not in the 8th grade -- I was a senior in college.

Since this blog post, I've started reading the new translation by Burgin and O'Conner, and I like it far more (it's also more complete).

Jeffery Hodges

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