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  1. says:

    Take a good look at the cover of this book.
    Are there two crutches or just one?
    Are there two animals or just one?
    Is it a dog or a wolf?
    Difficult to be certain, isn't it?
    Entre chien et loup is a French phrase which translates into English as 'between dog and wolf'. In French, the phrase is used for the hour of evening when the fading light makes it difficult to distinguish things clearly. Alexander Pushkin used the phrase in his verse novel, Eugene Onegin, and Sasha Sokolov quotes Pushkin's lines in one of the two epigraphs to this book:
    "I'm fond of friendly conversation
    And of a glass or two
    At dusk or entre chien et loup
    As people say without translation."
    Without translation, I wouldn't have been able to savour this story of one-legged (and therefore one-shoed) Ilya Petrikeich Zynzyrela (!) who is also fond of friendly conversation and a glass or two. In a very enigmatical style, Ilya philosophises about his life as a 'grinder' of ice-skate blades (a Sharpenhauer!) in a village on the banks of the Volga—or the Itil, as he likes to call it, the Wolf river.

    He tells of his love for Orina who may or may not work for the railway company, and who may or may not have been involved in the railway accident in which he lost his leg.
    He tells about killing what may have been a wolf in the dusk of an evening, and about the possible dangers of skating on thin ice.
    But none of Ilya's tales are easy to make out, no matter if they happen at dawn or at dusk, so I appreciated Alexander Boguslawski's very clever translation plus explanatory notes. He took this barrel of narrative and well and truly knocked out the bung, decanting the enigmatic Russian text into spicy earthy English—while keeping its puzzles perfectly———puzzling.
    So what have I read?
    Were there two one-legged men or just one?
    How many dogs were mistaken for wolves at dusk?
    How many crutches were used to kill the dogs?
    Or were they killed with guns?
    Because, you see, the second epigraph Sasha Sokolov uses is from Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, and may or may not refer to the second main character, Yakov, who may or may not have been one-legged too, but who definitely owns a gun: The young man was a hunter.

    Hunting is a big theme in the book, and Sakolov seems to have used Pieter Breughel's 1566 Hunters in the Snow as a mental backdrop. Several times in the text, this painting of hunters returning at dusk is referenced, though Brueghel is never mentioned—Sokolov knows we know that he's thinking of the painting.
    We are returning at dusk. There are, as a rule, several of us—huntsmen and up to a dozen dogs in the pack. It is December. One of us, in addition to the usual equipment—a dagger, a game bag, and a spear—is burdened by our shared trophy: The fox had been slain already at dawn. By the way, take a good look at our mongrels and abortzois. Horrendously long, ugly, curved monkey-like and resembling Filippov pretzels, do their tails leave at least a flicker of hope for pure blood? It is no secret—pitiful is the exterior of my hounds: skin and bones, and completely matted coats. By the way, there is among them one bloated, wobbly, with a hideously short snout—a spook matching the piglet that some simple folk roast over the bonfire in front of the tavern entrance, where, having assured us they would catch up soon, some huntsmen dropped in to wait out a very strong gust of headwind. Is there any need to mention that right now we are on the summit of a large hill, condemned, like the entire site, to the fresh Christmas snow, and our figures contrast quite well with this background? After leaving the tavern on the left, we have almost passed it and begin to descend into the valley. In front of us stretches a perennially familiar panorama. This is the dale of the river, and a town in this dale next to this river, and ponds, and barns in the distance, and the sky above everything listed. This is our country; we live here, and while some of us live in town, the others live in the village, beyond the emerald river. We easily distinguish the dike and the mill, the church and the horse carts on the roads, the library, the hospice, and the bathhouse. We see the steep roof of the invalids’ home, the grinding establishment, the shelter for the deaf, and the market. And a mass of skaters on the ice of the river and the ponds. Their voices and skates sound resonant, their faces are flushed. Here—brownish clumps of leafless trees, resembling the fur of unknown animals; there—washerwomen, rinsing the linen in an ice hole. In addition, boats frozen into ice, and levees, and birds—oh, a mass of birds both on the branches and simply in the celery-smelling space—firebirds, faded, discolored, or having completely replaced their whimsical garb with the modest feathers of magpies and crows.

    How about that for a nice bit of ekphrasis! That voice was Yakov's, by the way. His voice alternates with Ilya's throughout the book, and Ilya, though his voice is less sophisticated, is capable of a bit of ekphrasis from time to time too. Here's Ilya, who may or may not be wall-eyed, recounting an adventure that could be straight out of Breughel's The Blind leading the Blind:

    I met a certain blind man in an unsightly place, and he volunteered to accompany me to the water for repose. And I trudged after him, trustin him in everythin, but the darkness engulfed us and for that reason he did not notice a huntin pit and tumbled in. I also fell in, followin the leader, ’cuz my belt was tied to his with a strong rope so we wouldn’t get separated. Halloo, we did not get separated, we moaned with banged heads and with dislocations, halloo, we did not get separated, we kept jokin, continuin our journey with difficulty...

    It's not for nothing that Modest Mussorgsky's piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) provides another type of backdrop to the novel in the form of chapter headings. Mussorgsky's suite was made up of ten pieces plus a recurring section called The Promenade. The music was inspired by the composer imagining himself rambling through an exhibition of paintings, stopping here and there to examine a particular picture more closely.
    That pattern more or less describes the pattern of Sokolov's work. Ilya's and Yakov's alternating narratives are interrupted by recurring sections of poetry which may or may not be written by Yakov.

    Several other famous Russians can be discerned in Sakolov's work. Because I don't know a lot about Russian history and literature (and the light is bad;-), I could only make out a few with certainty. Gogol, for instance: there's a scene where a britska arrives in a yard which had me immediately thinking of the opening lines of Dead Souls. Turgenev's Fathers and Sons came to mind too when the subject of family came up. There are many puzzles about who might be related to who.
    Does Ilya have a son.
    Does Yakov have a father?
    What does Orina have to do with both of them?
    And what about Marina and Maria?
    And the Lonesome Babes?
    Enough, you say. Don't confuse us with further confusions.
    And Yakov is echoing your voices:
    Confusion—it’s an inevitable fault
    Of clueless philosophers, passions, ages…
    What kind of luck made me such a dolt
    That I could not make sense of them all
    Or rather could, but less and less, in stages?
    So ok, I will finish by mentioning a Russian classic that the translator feels is the most cited in Sokolov's text but which I didn't pick up on at all: A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov.

    It's not for nothing that I'm currently reading it.

  2. says:

    “I’m fond of friendly conversation
    And of a friendly glass or two
    At dusk or entre chien et loup
    As people say without translation,
    Though why they do, I hardly know…”
    Alexander Pushkin: Eugene Onegin; translated by James E. Falen.

    “Outside descend the mists of night.
    How pleasantly the evening jogs
    When o'er a glass with friends we prate
    Just at the hour we designate
    The time between the wolf and dogs –
    I cannot tell on what pretence –
    But lo! the friends to chat commence.”
    Alexander Pushkin: Eugene Onegin; translated by Henry Spalding.

    “The time between wolf and hound
    Is good for a chat soul to soul.
    Though the lunch isn’t lavish at all,
    You’ll be able to talk round and round
    With both, the wolf and the hound.”
    Sasha Sokolov: Between Dog and Wolf

    Early dusk of Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and the personages of Between Dog and Wolf are portrayed as though they stepped out of this famous painting…

    Gury – that’s what he was called, as long as we’re on it. Among the amusements of that particular Gury I’d reference the followin: He was the one that adored scrapin and rollin over the slick on his sharps, which additionally resulted in us losin a client, and the undertakers, in contrast, findin one. I’ll provide evidence right away. In the days of the Archer, to make it more dangerous, but more excitin, the loners of both Shallow Reach shores arrange races on the weakenin ice. It happens in the outer darkness, intentionally without heavenly lights, and the folks cut figures as well as they can and hurry-scurry playin catch and chasin each other, without seein the holes and cracks. And that’s fraughtful.

    The language of the novel – vernacular, slang, pidgin, vulgarisms, archaisms and occasional nonce words – is grotesquely and poetically bizarre and absolutely unique.
    It is wonderful outside – our native land. Kinda mother, but strikingly sly, deceitful. In the beginnin, overall, it appears to be – land like land, only poor, with nothin in it. But after you’ve made yourself at home, looked more carefully – there’s everythin in it…

    Pariahs, outcasts, cripples, orphans, drunkards, floozies, crones and vagabonds move through the world and their existence attempting to find their own, however tiny, niche there…
    And does not every Homo sapiens that is hurrying somewhere resemble Achilles? Nobody is able to catch up with one’s tortoise, reach something close by, whatever it could be. A survey of the late fall. Occupation – a passerby. Place of work – the street. The length of employment in the given field – eternity. The situation is not better with the other moving objects – they are not moving, making everything questionable. The migration of flocks lasts unacceptably long. They soar above the ribbed, dark maroon roofs, barely waving their wings.

    Some are born to sweet delight, some are born to the endless twilight zone.

  3. says:

    Update: I've read it the second time. I enjoyed the language, but the first reading left me sufficiently puzzled to figure out what is actually happening in the book. I think I've got it now. So I've updated the review below. I've put my version of events under the Spoilers alerts.

    I was not sure which language to use for the review. It is my usual dilemma when I read in Russian. But here it is exacerbated by the fact that this novel seems to be better known in the West. And i have a few things to say about the translation. So I will stick to English this time.

    Sasha Sokolov bears the title of the “last Russian writer” that is quite a title considering the tradition. He emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 70s. All his novels were initially published in America. In roughly 15 years between the beginning of the 70s and middle 80s, he wrote 3 novels. After that, he has stopped publishing. “Between the Dog and Wolf” is his second novel. It is based upon his personal experience of working as a gamekeeper somewhere in North Russia in the tributaries of Volga river. He had to hunt, lead other hunters and of course meet a lot of local simple folk (hunters, fishermen, gamekeepers and even poaches). He especially befriended one old man, Pyetr Krysolymov who offered Sasha to stay in his house. According to Sasha he was a soothsayer. All these impressions were the inspiration for the novel. Pyetr’s presence in the novel is very tangible. There is even a character with similar name who seems to be a single wise man in the crowd. But Sasha said his features are spread between many characters. He also requested to put the picture of Pyetr on the cover of the first addition of his book: ( )

    When he published his first novel A School for Fools the critics came back with comparing that book to Nabokov’s novels. According to him, he did not read Nabokov at that time. Nabokov was banned in the Soviet Union. Interestingly, I’ve read somewhere that Nabokov actually praised his first novel. When Sokolov has arrived in the US, he has finally read Nabokov novels. And he has consciously decided to write something very different. Has he succeeded? In my view, I am not sure. I certainly felt some echoes of Pale Fire in this book. Sokolov himself always says that Joyce and Poe has had more influence on him. So he is probably very pleased that this book is compared to Finnegans Wake. I have not read the latter. But from my limited knowledge of Joyce and from reading Sokolov in the original, I do not think this comparison can be taken too far. As far as I know, Joyce has almost created his own language for his novel. Even from reading Ulysses one can gather how much attention Joyce pays to the musicality of language; how he is able to squeeze beyond the limits of its possibilities. Sokolov is good as well, but not at that level. He synthesises very successfully what is already there created by prior writers and generations. I was not totally convinced he has done something so revolutionary as Joyce in terms of the language.

    However, the novel is still sparkling enough. It is told in three distinctive voices. The leading voice is Ilya Petrikeich Zynzyrela, a one legged artisan who travels from place to place and earns coins from sharpening bland objects (knives, skates anything else). His part of the text is a long rambling letter of complaint to a certain official. It is told in transgressive vernacular, wonderfully imaginative language. Sokolov incorporates a lot into his speech. The character uses the bits of the Russian people’s fairytales (russkie narodnie skazki), creates new derivatives from words, sometimes he creates new words all together which is quite common in Russian vernacular language. Understandably, Illia does not want to follow a simple thread of conversation and jumps from one topic to another often within one sentence. He also uses quite a few of Russian short satirical poems called Chastúshkas. I do not know the equivalent for these in English. I only would say that they could be quite rude and they always rhyme. Sometimes he sings and quotes traditional romances and bard songs from the 70s. Bizarrely, the puzzle of a cabbage, a goat and a wolf's transfer over the river (without being mutually eaten) plays a role in the story. All this mixture reflects Russian popular culture and how Russian peasants used to speak; the language one might still find in those lands or one might have a glimpse in the collection of Russian fairytales. All his references are easy to recognise for any native speaker being born and raised there in Russia. Sokolov also names the one of the characters after Nikolay Ugodnik which is a clear reference to St Nikolas, the one of the most prominent Orthodox Saints. This adds the dimension of religious faith preserved between the locals during the Soviet times. It also adds to the mischief as St Nikolas is also associated with Ded Moroz (Russian Father Christmas) who tends to make miracles and magic transformations. Overall, this part of the text is the most unstructured out of the whole and the most humorous as well. It reads like a stream of collective conscience of the local folk rather than a voice of a single individual.

    The second voice is a voice of an observer, who lives in the city. Eventually we find out that his name is Yakov Ilyich Palamakhertov . He might be a writer, he might also be a painter. But his voice exists out of space or even time. He just observes through his mental eye either real paintings (Bruegel “Hunters in the Snow”), or more often he writes down the views from his window or his mental images. He moves from one image to another and describes them to us. These part is called “The pictures from the exhibition” after Modest Mussorgsky piano piece. Mussorgsky wrote it in a memory of his dead friend whose exhibition he has visited. The friend was an architect as well as the artist so his exhibition contained his impression from different places and stories starting from Baba Yaga’s hut and ending with Kiev’s Golden Gate. Sokolov uses it as an inspiration for his word sketches. Yakov is only half present in this part. It is what he sees is important. For me, it is the best part of the novel. It is etherial, patchy and very visual. It also contains two evident pastiches in Gogol’s and later and more briefly, Dostoyevsky’s style.

    The third part is named “Notes of a hunter “ and later in the text “The notes of a binging hunter” (Zapiski Zapoinogo Okhotnika”). The allusion is evidently to Turgenev’s sketches. But the part is made in verse. There are 37 of them in total. We find out a the end that those poems are work by Yakov as well. He writes them when he lives somewhere at the same places as Illia and works as a gamekeeper. Eventually he puts all these poems in a bottle and throws into the river, presumably for us to find and assess his genius. That is how he refers to his work in the last poem. I think, this part is an attempt by Sokolov to move from very unstructured sea of a text which is Illia’s parts through descriptive language of Yakov-observer and towards a formally constrained experimentation with the verse. For me, it was the least successful part. Some of those poems are touching and original. But the majority are imitations of style of different other poets. And, in my humble opinion, they do not reach the quality of the originals.I recognised very clearly the one imitating Eugene Onegin, the one imitating an urban romance, a few - Brodskii IosifJ, a fellow emigrant and the Nobel Prize winner, at least one is clear pastiche on another Nobel Prize winner Pasternak Boris, and the whole bunch of the poem are written under direct influence of the symbolists - Alexander Blok, Andrey Bely, Brusov. There are even allusions in the poems names to these authors. With the small exception, I just did not care for many of these poems both formally and in terms of the imaginary they’ve created as they are clear imitations of style. I'd prefer him to create some original poetic technique as well. But the experiment of combining both unstructured vernacular and formal poetry within the novel is brave and should be applaud for. I think, only Nabokov's Pale Fire has pulled it off.

    But what is actually going on in this novel? I think anyone who tried to read it asked himself this question. On the first reading, I could admire the language tricks and some jokes; i could picture the life of the river people. But i did not grasp the coherence of the whole or the fact there is none. On the second reading, I think I’ve got it. So below my two interpretations. I urge you not to read them unless you’ve read the novel already. It might deprive you of a pleasure to get there yourself.

    Realistic version:

    (view spoiler)

  4. says:

    A man gets his crutches stolen. Narrates that fact, digressive rich. I don't know if that's the premise or a spoiler. Careful with them crutches, Eugene.

    Sokolov pub'd this one in 1980. Now freshly trans'd into English by Alexander Boguslawski in a totally fresh new series of Russian stuff from Columbia U.

    Previously he'd pub'd A School for Fools which was English'd quite early on (1988). And just last year seems to have gotten the NYRB treatment. Nabokov loved it!

    Dude was a Russian writer. You can read about him on his gr author=bio blurb or probably at wikipedia.

    If the thing about a guy losing his crutches as the premise/core of a novel don't sound Wakean to you, I don't know what will.

    The novel is one of them there rich things that require reading it at least twice. Love Me Two Times, Babe. Love me twice today.

    There are three voices in here. They hand off from chapter to chapter like a trio of rappers passing the mic. Or something. (There's a chart/map in the Intro; which I recommend you read and set your senseless spoiler=anxiety off to one side, babe, off to one side today.) One's this here uneducated guy. The next is some kind of different narrator. The third is some poetry. But the poetry's got some narrative info in it ; so don't just totally skip it.

    Our intrepid translator, iirc, spent 10 years of his life working on this thing. Not only that, but he loved the thing twice, loved it two times today ;; having previously trans'd the damn thing into Polish.

    There are endnotes. They mostly do two things (Love Me Two Things!) ;; identify and discuss some of the more difficult-to-translate stuff, like his narrator's neologisms, and id the various literary allusions which your well versed Russian lit=snob would grasp like straws. But so, see, even if you 'read it in the original Russian' but weren't steeped in the Russian lit=tradition, you'd be losing a hell of a lot of stuff. So don't talk to me about "lost in translation"!!! Found in annotation, babe.

    The title is from a Pushkin thing. Famous. Maybe you know it in its French :: entre chien et loup. It means :: (view spoiler)

  5. says:

    The "Finnegans Wake" of Russia, And Its Translation Problems

    There are two principal voices in "Between Dog and Wolf": a knife sharpener, Ilya; and a man presented as his son, Yakov. Ilya writes in a kind of rough and wild colloquial speech; Yakov writes measured, 19th-century style prose. Yakov also writes rhymed verses; and there are also chapters in a different voice, which Sokolov, in an NPR interview, has identified as his own voice. The book alternates chapters by Ilya, by Yakov, and chapters of Yakov's poems. I read the poems and prose by Yakov, but I couldn't stand the chapters by Ilya: they are ruined, I think, by a bad translation. More on that in the third section.

    1. Precedents
    "Between Dog and Wolf" is touted everywhere as the Russian "Finnegans Wake." The Columbia University Press website quotes it this way: "Intricate and rewarding—a Russian Finnegans Wake." It turns out this isn't a review, but a one-line "In Short" notice which reads, in its entirety, "Sasha Sokolov’s classic Between Dog and Wolf (Columbia University) is intricate and rewarding—a Russian Finnegans Wake." Such is the depth and detail of contemporary reviewing! In fact the parallel with "Finnegans Wake" doesn't help.

    The chapters written by Ilya come from a long line of inventive pseudo-patois, a tradition that includes Faulkner and Peter Matthiessen's wonderful "Far Tortuga." The alternating prose and poems by Yakov are rich with allusions to Russian literature and culture, and one of their inevitable points of reference is "Eugene Onegin"--which also fits because Nabokov, who once praised Sokolov, wrote 4 volumes of commentary on Pushkin's "novel." (I have a review of that elsewhere on Goodreads and Librarything.) "Finnegans Wake" shares as much with "Between Dog and Wolf" as it does with Arno Schmidt or Marianne Fritz, which is to say very little.

    The Yakov character writes a kind of surreal, associative prose, which is reminiscent of Peter Handke's meditations on landscape. I think its ultimate model is Rilke or Trakl, in their hallucinatory poetic imagery, and in their twisting and folding of time and place. Yakov's poetry is reminiscent of a number of models, from "Eugene Onegin" to folk songs and ballads, and poets like Rimbaud and Verlaine.

    2. Philosophy
    In terms of the history of novels and of philosophy, "Between Dog and Wolf" has a deep romanticism, mingled with a modernist interest in words and writing. Yakov expresses the romanticism especially clearly:

    "Waters are splashing,
    Flow by themselves
    To reach their goal;
    The years are passing,
    And we ourselves
    Just live, that's all." [p. 143]


    "Why did I, the hunter-ragpicker,
    On the face of existence a blemish, a scab...
    Compose all these Notes at this river's spring
    And floated [sic] them down in a hurry?
    Such a meaningless loss of candles and ink...
    How annoying: All these years irretrievably lost,
    Playing, singing, and having much fun;
    You gaze in the tumbler--and you're just a ghost.
    Alas, things look bad, you are done." [p. 230]

    Or again, even more ecstatically, in the mode of Joyce:

    "Lonely and lone among all the lone and lonely who are countless, burn, burn brightly--there, at the cobblestone highway; here, at the crossroads of turnouts, and at the dead end, where the burdock grows. Burn with white light, sinless flower, burn, bitter, burn, timid, burn, enchanting. Burn for Yakov..." [p. 180]

    Yakov's prose chapters are the centerpiece of the book's modernism or postmodernism, because of what they do to time and place. The narrator's monologues fold back and forth through time, suffering from "symptoms of terminal temporal disease that distorted the natural flow of events and years, the flow of being, the course of the flow" (p. 176). Yakov's thoughts are swamped by unexpected links: not only Rilkean tropes and unexpected analogies, but constructions like "at first--just once; later--occasionally and then--constantly," and "when and whether, and if, and wherever, and while--then, therefore, and consequently" (pp. 174-75). For me these chapters are the heart of the book, because they articulate the narrators' (in the plural) sense of the sfumato of time, signaled in the book's title (which refers to the end of twilight, when it's not possible to tell a dog from a wolf) and in the setting (which is full of imagery of rivers, seasons, and time passing).

    3. Translation
    Stylistic contrasts are the engine of the book, and I can imagine that in Russian it might be a powerful experience. But in English it is seriously hampered, even crippled, by poor translation choices.

    The translator, Alexander Boguslawski, says the NPR interview (January 28, 2017) that when he first found the novel his English wasn't good enough to translate it. Actually what he says is "But what was the problem, you know, that I read it very early, and my English wasn't good enough." Given, it's a radio interview, and no one is perfectly spoken on radio, but the Russian-English expression "what was the problem" is a warning sign. May I suggest that when it comes to idioms, his English still isn't good enough?

    In the chapters written in Sokolov's voice, and in Yakov's voice, and to some extent in the poetry, the translation isn't an insuperable obstacle: I can usually tell what tone or idiom Sokolov was aiming at. But the chapters presented as written by Ilya are nearly unreadable. Here is the first line of the book:

    "The moonth's clear, no catchin up with the dates, the year's current."

    The translator's notes at the end of the book gloss "moonths" this way:

    "Moonth: The Russian expressaion "mesiats iasen" has two meanings: the moon is bright, and the month is clear. To signal this duality, and the importance of wordplays throughout the novel, "moon" and "month" are combined into one word here. Such a combination resembles similar constructions created by the narrator and, at the same time, indicates the derivation of the word "month" in many languages (including Russian and English) from the word "mooon." [p. 231]

    I think this is wholly misguided. It's bad reasoning: "moonth" sounds stupid (as if the narrator is stupid, which is partly the case), and it sounds a bit drunken. It doesn't conjure the philosophic and linguistic meanings Boguslawski thinks, especially because as Ilya's narrative goes on, there are no parallels to it.

    It is extremely difficult to translate dialect, because every choice of an un-grammatical or local usage will conjure a particular ethnicity, period, or place in a native reader's mind. A translator can't just pick and choose different usages assuming they all coalesce into a new pidgin or patois. If you're going to invent a way of speaking, it's necessary to be consistent, and to have a pitch-perfect ear, as in "Clockwork Orange"; otherwise it's necessary to pick one ethnicity, time, or place, and just let it represent the speech in the original text. Chapters written by Ilya are, I think, absolutely unreadable:

    "Wherever they'd settle me, I didn't mind bein down and out, didn't seriously hanker after a family, and made ends meet by askin folks for help in proportion to their means and possibilities. About that I remain remorseful, havin chosen for this purpose a co-op of individuals named after A. Sharpenhauer." [p. 1]

    This is typical in its obtrusive invented abbreviated word endings (always lacking apostrophes, even though they are conventional, and even though contractions and possessives retain apostrophes). Ilya is wildly inventive and imaginative, and has a large vocabulary (and sly references to all sorts of figures in history, including Schopenhauer), so his supposedly hokey grammar rings consistently false. I have no idea what Sokolov's original sounds like: but I can't believe it raises this sort of distracting problem.

    I should note that there's a more sympathetic take on the translation by Josh Billings, "Monsters of Translation: On Arno Schmidt and Sasha Sokolov," Los Angeles Review of Books, December 26, 2016), although he also ends with misgivings:

    "whereas the inhabitants of Sokolov’s book can throw their language like a fishing line at the world and have it stick every time, the English reader of Between Dog and Wolf watches his own hook frequently bob up empty. This is especially true of the long sections written in verse, which swim past us meaning something (probably many things), but with an imperviousness that makes us understand why Sokolov’s book was considered untranslatable for so many years. It is not, of course — Boguslawski has proven this (and in two languages, no less: he spent 10 years producing a Polish version). And yet something essential eludes us, not because we can’t see it, but because it isn’t there. Where is it then? In the original? Presumably — although who knows."

    4. The novel's place in history
    The comparison with "Finnegans Wake" is right in the sense that this book belongs in the 1920s and 1930s: it is a late-romantic, post-symbolist, first-generation modernist experiment in voices and language. It isn't securely postmodern, although it is in a sense post-Gombrowicz and post-Schmidt.

  6. says:

    Perfection. Comparable to Pale Fire. Maybe even Finnegans Wake. The end notes are essential, and I can believe it was actually translated at all.

  7. says:

    Well, patience, patience, patience, patience. Four stars for patience. But who has patience today? Brilliant, but obsolete. Paradox? No.

  8. says:

    First published in Russia in 1980, Sasha Sokolov’s Between Dog and Wolf has been recently translated from its original Russian by Alexander Boguslawski, and the novel forms part of the Russian Library at Columbia University Press. Sokolov began to write this novel, his second, before he emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1975. What inspired him was his work as a game warden in the Volga, where he spent almost a full year living in a wooden cabin with no electricity. In true Russian style, Sokolov’s chosen title comes from a quatrain in Pushkin’s wonderful Eugene Onegin.

    On its publication, Between Dog and Wolf was greeted ‘with almost complete silence’, the antithesis to his Nabokov-endorsed first effort, A School for Fools. The Western world ‘failed to review the novel, while their Russian emigre colleagues produced only a small number of rather general responses, without detailed discussion of its structure, language, or importance for Russian or world literature’. Perhaps a valid reason for this omission is that the structure is so complex; it is comprised of the ‘uneducated, often dialectical, colloquial narrative of Ilya Petrikeich Zynzyrela’, as well as a poetic, impersonal style designed to reflect Russian literary tradition from the nineteenth century, and a series of poems ‘authored by Yakov’.

    The introduction is, without a doubt, informative, and busies itself with allowing the reader the best inroad into this seemingly confusing novel. Its style is academic; it is intelligent and useful, but reader beware, as it does tend to give away a lot of the later plot details. In the main body of text, Ilya’s voice takes on a stream-of-consciousness style; Sokolov’s handling of dialect works well, and successfully puts across the kind of character his protagonist is.

    It does take much determination to get through Between Dog and Wolf at times, but if you do reach the end, it is a book which is sure to stick with you for quite some time afterwards. For me, it was a little too all over the place, and whilst it may be a book which I would have enjoyed had I had more patience, it is one which I have given up on for the time being. It must be said that I did not abandon it because it was poor; I simply wasn’t in the mood for something so heavy going which I would have to work at considerably to enjoy.

  9. says:

    Alexander Boguslawski's translation of Sasha Sokolov's Between Dog and Wolf is a challenging and, so far, rewarding work. I say so far because I have read it twice now in a fairly short time (maybe a month between the readings) and am still really coming to appreciate much about it while also thinking there are going to be some aspects I will never appreciate.

    This is, from all accounts, a difficult work to translate because of the linguistic play, in Russian, which is at the heart of the novel. There are several distinct voices, two characters and the voice of the author (so he says), each different in tone and dialect or regionalism. Ilya is by far the most challenging to read and understand and it is his chapters that I may never come to fully grasp. While a large part of that inability is solidly on my shoulders I think Boguslawski is less successful here in trying to find English phrases and expressions while staying true to Sokolov's language play. The other chapters are still a challenge but much easier (less difficult?) to understand. I found the poetry to be quite understandable. I hesitate to say well translated because I have no idea what the Russian is so I can't speak to that.

    In deciding whether you might want to tackle this, know now that it has been, rightfully so, compared to Finnegan's Wake. Except the comparison was with the novel in Russia and not translation. So you are wrestling with something (kinda, sorta) like Finnegan's Wake but in translation. That said, if you enjoy a book with which you must put in some effort then I would definitely suggest you consider Between Dog and Wolf. As more is written about this novel (I seem to recall that there has been more Sokolov scholarship in English in the past decade or so) I think this will become a much more rewarding book to read, study and ponder. Maybe the next translation of it will improve on Ilya's chapters.

  10. says:

    To reflect what many others are saying: the language is the real joy of this novel. It's near impossible to follow the winding story in all its directions, but I genuinely enjoyed the journey. That being said, the novel is uneven, and I suspect (as do others here) that the problem may be one of translation.

    The Ilya segments are significantly more difficult to follow and stay invested in then both the comparatively tame poetry and the also difficult but more grounded narrator chapters. So much of the issue comes down to both strange words and phrases, which I cannot with confidence say are an issue of the book or of the translation, and of references to Russian cultural history that will likely be inaccessible for most readers who aren't comfortable with Russian literature, folklore, and art. It doesn't feel quite right for that reason to fault the book for it, as another reader may really enjoy this, but I did find myself dreading his sections. Even so, he does manage to produce some very memorable and silly turns of phrase to my surprised delight.

    All in all, Sokolov proves himself again to be among the most adept wordsmiths I've come across. His command of language, even in translation, stuns, shocks, and soothes the reader. I adore authors who can keep the reader invested through words alone, and Sokolov is in a class of his own in this regard.