Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0000333, Fri, 9 Sep 1994 17:34:08 -0700

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 09 Sep 94 23:10:00 PDT
From: Toker Leona <toker@HUM.HUJI.AC.IL>


An important event on the Israeli literary scene was the
publication, several months ago, of "A Russian Dozen" by Vladimir Nabokov,
a Hebrew translation of a number of stories (not twelve but, of course,
thirteen) originally written by Nabokov in Russian. The volume opens with
"Pil'gram" ("The Aurelian" of "Nabokov's Dozen") and "The Leonardo" (title
translated as "Maestro"), as though to set the atmosphere, goes on to
stories set in the Russian emigre environment, and ends with the very
early story "Blagost,'" (title translated as "Moments of Mercy," an
evocative Hebrew idiom), one that, for all the cultural load that it may
or may not carry, speaks directly to emotions. The collection also
includes such stories as "Spring in Fialta," "Cloud, Castle, Lake,"
"Recruiting," and "Torpid Smoke."

The translator of the volume, Nili Mirsky, just about the best
translator from Russian to Hebrew, has a really profound knowledge of
both the languages and seeks maximum precision. She does an
excellent job with Nabokov's lyricism but is less successful with his
playfulness. As a result, the style of the stories does not
counterbalance the bleakness of the setting as thoroughly as it does
in the original. In making her choices Nili Mirsky often consulted
the English translations of the stories. A professional translator
cannot, however, afford to do what the author could do himself--
compensate for the effect lost in the translation of one passage by
introducing it in a different place.

"The Russian Dozen" was well pubicized in the media (I also
contributed to the effort by reviewing it in the book review section
of the morning paper "Haaretz," August 3, 1994). The talk of the
town was the article by the journalist Eilat Negev in the weekend
(June 10) issue of the popular paper "Yediot Aharonot" ("Latest
News"). The article is largely based on Brian Boyd's biography of
Nabokov and on interviews with Nili Mirsky, Arieh Levavi (former
Israeli Ambassador to Switzerland), and me. Having received the
assignment, Eilat Negev went through an equivalent of a crash
course in Nabokoviana; she seems to have carried out of it an
admiration for the attitudes that Nabokov represents. Her paper
starts with the letter that Nabokov sent to Arieh Levavi ("Selected
Letters," p. 522) on October 9, 1973, together with a contribution
for Israel's defense. This was the third day of the October War, the
Egyptian and the Syrian forces had advanced considerably, the
bloodshed was terrible and the outcome not at all clear. Mr.
Levavi, now 82 years old and living in Jerusalem, does not
remember the amount of Nabokov's check that he forwarded
to some organization in Israel. He does remember Nabokov's
concern and his having introduced to him an American couple who,
he hoped, would also make a donation. (Arieh Levavi is Russian-
born, but, owing to the presence of Mrs. Levavi, the conversations
with Mr. and Mrs. Nabokov in Montreux were in English).

This opening of the article was sure to draw attention
throughout the country, yet, judging by the echoes that have
reached me, the main thing that people talked about was Miss
Negev's gentle yet quite authoritative remarks on "Lolita": implicitly
attacking former popular misconceptions, she put on record the
kind of interpretation which most subscribers to Nabokov-L would,
indeed, accept.

The significance of the publication of "The Russian Dozen" is,
however, far greater than its having provided an occasion for setting
the record straight. Among other things, it may serve as a reminder
of a value system independent of external standards of success as
well as of institutionalized collective creeds. It seems that one of
the advantages of translation (one that may turn into a danger in
the wrong hands) is an opportunity it provides of composing a
collection that brings a specific segment of the author's attitudes into
high relief.