Eugene Onegin, Alexander Pushkin0

Every now and again it’s important to do something out of character. So instead of picking up another classic I started reading Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. During my late teens and early twenties, I read a lot of sci-fi such as Isaac Asimov, Kurt Vonnegut, Arthur C. Clarke, Phillip Dick, Michael Moorcroft and others. And then I read Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities – after that it’s been dead authors pretty much all the way. Every now and again I read authors who are still walking about. I once met Jonathan Coe and felt embarrassed because I’d never read any of his books. So I read some (they were okay) in the hope I’d be less embarrassed the next time I met him. But I never met him again.

So I delved into Martin’s world which looked a bit like medieval Europe without Christianity. The prose style is ordinary so I tired of the book quickly. The characters were shallow and I really couldn’t care less if they were all devoured by dragons, which alas, they weren’t so I rode on, heroically, through Wolfswood and the Vale of Arryn because I have a Golden Rule: Finish The Book. Luckily, I make up my Golden Rules as I go along so from now on I allow myself to abandon a book if the author is still living.

So on to Pushkin. Anyone who reads Russian novels can not help but notice repeated references to Alexander Pushkin. He is considered to be the man who heralded Russia’s great literary century. Eugene Onegin is a verse novel and I have to say I’m reluctant to read translated verse but there have to be exceptions if the author is a literary giant such as Homer or Dante. I decided to include Pushkin in that pantheon.

The story’s main thrust is the failed dalliance between Eugene Onegin and a woman whose brother he’d recently shot dead in a dual. Oh well, love’s a funny old game.

At first I couldn’t get the verse to sing. The meter is iambic but so many lines have a feminine ending followed by a line with an anacrusis so I kept stumbling when going from one line to the next.

‘The dream alarms her, and not knowing
What hidden meaning in it lies’

I got round this by treating ‘knowing/What’ as a dactyl.

Translated prose is fine but translated verse seems to shout its presence in every clunky line. The stressed ‘a’ before ‘campaign’ really grates;

‘And promised them each year again
A soldier spouse and a campaign.’

And then they’re pre-op feminine endings trying to be masculine such as ‘unfit/exquisite’.

So Pushkin is good but doesn’t translate well which explains why he doesn’t get read much outside Russia.

Chico Chica had a great night at Brasserie Toulouse Lautrec on 5th December – thanks to all you readers and listeners in the audience.

Chico Chica spend every New Year’s Eve at:

Tamarind 20 Queen Street, Mayfair London W1J 5PR
020 7629 3561

Do come along – it’s a fabulous Michelin-starred curry house.

I will be writing one more post before Christmas so the season’s greetings will wait until then.

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