The Bulgakov translation conundrum began a few weeks ago. My husband Mr. Tingle* was looking for a book to read, and I suggested Master and the Margarita as it’s one of the Best Books in the World. Also, he (Mr. T) recently read the Bible, a grinding sort of triumph, and I thought he’d enjoy Master and the Margarita‘s religious elements.**
But the book was abandoned after only a few pages, the reason given that something was off with the writing, maybe it was the translation? And I flapped my arms around a lot, but when I went to re-read the novel myself I saw he was right. Our house copy is the Mirra Ginsburg translation, and I got the Michael Glenny translation from the library and started reading it last night. It’s a huge improvement, as you can see from the opening paragraphs alone.
From the Ginsburg translation:
At the hour of sunset, on a hot spring day, two citizens appeared in the Patriarchs’ Ponds Park. One, about forty, in a gray summer suit, was short, plump, dark-haired and partly bald. He carried his respectable pancake-shaped hat in his hand, and his clean-shaven face was adorned by a pair of supernaturally large eyeglasses in a black frame. The other was a broad-shouldered young man with a mop of shaggy red hair, in a plaid cap, pushed well back on his head, a checked cowboy shirt, crumpled white trousers, and black sneakers.
From the Glenny translation:
At the sunset hour of one warm spring day two men were to be seen at Patriarch’s Ponds. The first of them — aged about forty, dressed in a grayish summer suit — was short, dark-haired, well-fed and bald. He carried his decorous pork-pie hat by the brim and his neatly shaven face was embellished by black horn-rimmed spectacles of preternatural dimensions. The other, a broad-shouldered young man with curly reddish hair and a check cap pushed back to the nape of his neck, was wearing a tartan shirt, chewed white trousers and black sneakers.
The musicality of the Glenny translation is just more pleasing, down to the substitution of “chewed” for “crumpled.”
• In praise of the Glenny translation
• Excellent Master and the Margarita website (via TEV.)
* This was my husband’s handle at Tingle Alley, and he’s asked that it remain what he gets called here as well. In case he ever wants to join a motorcycle gang or open up a magic store or something.
** Spotting Biblical allusions is Mr. Tingle’s new hobby — a consolation, I think, for the hardships of Leviticus. One night I was watching Devil Wears Prada and at the point when Miranda Priestly approaches the building and Stanley Tucci shouts “Gird your loins,” he popped in from two rooms over to announce, “‘Gird your loins’ is from the Bible!”