Legend has it that Grigory Potemkin, the chief minister and lover of Catherine the Great
- decided to impress her with the prosperity of lands newly conquered by the Russian Empire.
- So he had the pasteboard facade of houses constructed along the road just far enough away to look real.
- Ever since, the phrase “Potemkin village” has indicated something that looks authentic and impressive
- until one examines it closely and discovers its falsity
Thus it is with the celebrated work of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
- who are making a decades-long project
- of presenting authoritative new English editions of the great works of Russian literature
- These are Potemkin translations
- apparently definitive but actually flat and fake on closer inspection.
The Pevear-Volokhonsky versions of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Chekhov, and Bulgakov
- have earned rapturous reviews
--- by James Wood in the New Yorker and
--- Orlando Figes in the New York Review of Books
--- along with a PEN translation award.
- It looks as if people will be reading P&V, as they have come to be called, for decades to come.
This is a tragedy, because their translations take glorious works and reduce them to awkward and unsightly muddles
- Professional writers have asked me to check the Russian texts
- because they could not believe any great author would have written what P&V produce.
- The danger their translations pose is this:
--- if students and more-general readers choose P&V
--- and it is clearly the intent of their publishers here and in England
--- that their editions become the universally accepted renditions into English for a generation or more
--- those students and readers are likely to presume that whatever made so many regard Russian literature with awe
--- has gone stale with time or is lost to them