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I know very little about Russian literature, to say nothing of the challenges it poses for English translation, though I've heard said that no less a Russian literary genius than Vladimir Nabokov declared Pushkin's classical verse novel "Evgenii Onegin" "mathematically impossible to translate." Which didn't stop him from trying (albeit in prose). Mary Hobson herself told a BBC interviewer that "although I keep translating him he's absolutely untranslatable" (6 January 2004)!
Here, the justly acclaimed Shakespearean actor and Audible stalwart Neville Jason turns in a brilliant performance in the first-ever recording of Mary Hobson's amazing new translation, mostly in iambic tetrameter, of "Evgenii Onegin." Now, there have been over two dozen previous translations of this work, in various poetic and prose formats. Doctoral dissertations have been written on the challenges of translating Pushkin. All I know is that I love this current rendition — but I also very much like the equally lively Kindle version "Eugene Oneguine" by Henry Spalding (1881), which doesn't seem a bit outdated to me. In fact, it's fun (if not especially easy!) to read and compare the latter work (perhaps not line by line, but rather stanza by stanza) with Mary Hobson's Audible translation.
One of the coolest things about "Evgenii Onegin: A New Translation by Mary Hobson" is the backstory. Now 86, British homemaker and grandmother Mary Hobson went to university and graduated with a bachelor's degree in Russian in her 60s, after reading and falling in love with "War and Peace" (in English) while laid up in the hospital. She went on to complete a PhD in Russian literature when she was 74. Dr. Hobson has earned the Griboedov Prize (1996), Pushkin Gold Medal (1999), and Peredvizhnik Prize (2009), among other prestigious Russian translation awards. Guardian critic Sue Arnold recently called Mary Hobson's "Evgenii Onegin" a "BREATHTAKINGLY BRILLIANT TOUR DE FOURCE" (8 June 2012). But realizing she's getting too old for her whirlwind winter commutes to Moscow and Irkutsk ["My idea of hell is a holiday in the sun ... I never feel so good as in really freezing weather!"], Dr. Hobson has recently changed her focus from Russian to ancient Greek. Which means that over a daily breakfast of All-Bran, wholemeal toast and a pot of black coffee she now gets to read Marcus Aurelius and Plato in their original language — and perhaps even more age-appropriately, in bed.
This is one of the best Audible.com recordings in my audiobook library. If you've never read "Evgenii Onegin" but enjoy Lord Byron, there are some thematic and structural similarities to "Don Juan" and "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage." And the accompanying Naxos guide is short (15 pages) but sweet.
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If you haven't gotten around to reading Eugene Onegin yet, get this Naxos audio version. The translation by Mary Hobson is very pleasing, and Neville Jacobson's narration is superb. I have read Pushkin's novel in verse in several very good translations, and none is better than this. To finally be able to hear the lines is amazingly satisfying. What's it about, you ask? Oh, Russia, family, society, unrequited love, that sort of thing. You just have to read it to begin to know. And here's a plus--the download is only 4 1/2 hours long, so you can read it 10 times or more in the time it takes to read the average Russian classic. I know I will. If you already know the novel, this version will not disappoint you. If you don't know it yet--well, I already told you what to do.
10 of 12 people found this review helpful