Death and Redemption

Death and Redemption–

I love this book and wanted to second Deborah’s comment about how readable and useful it is.  I’ll comment more on that later.  But for my first post I also wanted to second how much I wished there were illustrations–pictures, of course, but a map of Karlag would have been most useful as well to get a sense not only of the size of the camp, but the location of the various outposts and a relative scale of the distances covered, especially since this was such a geographically large camp.  Forgive me if I have not checked this, but it might be helpful, especially as we use this book in our courses, to have web material posted to which we could send students for further clarification of locations and terrain.

I also had a question for Steve–Why did you decide to use the English translation of the История строительства…rather than the Russian original?  I ask because the English translation is a poor substitute for the original.  While scant information exists (at least that I know of) as to how the English translation came to be, it turns out that the English variant omits significant parts of the Russian original, incorrectly translates some of the sub-headings, if they are included at all, and diminishes the careful construction of the original that the true editorial team–Boris Lapin, Viktor Shklovsky and other writers–had in mind when they produced the work as a literary montage. Just curious!  ( As a basis for reference I talk about this in my book, pp. 192-202.)

3 replies on “Death and Redemption–”

Thanks for the comments, Cindy. I’ll reply to you further on the issue of maps and ancillary material in a separate post, as I can provide a number of links that might prove helpful.

As for your critique of my use of the English version of the Belomor volume, I really have no good answer. I think this was clearly a mistake on my part. Not the only one, I am sure. Generally speaking, if an English version of a book was available, I preferred reference to the English as I generally assumed that a professional translator will do much better than I. Obviously that proved problematic in this case. I would be interested to know if there are particular aspects of the Russian-language version that show my own analysis of the volume and its import to be problematic.

Thanks for the comment, Steve. I don’t think that your analysis of the volume and its import are at all problematic. For all its faults, the English translation does largely capture the spirit and tone of the original, and provides a useful source for your own readers who might not know Russian and would want to consult the book. And the parts of the Russian original that have been translated are generally acceptable translations. I suppose what I was getting at that was that given the liberties the translator/editors took in producing the English volume vis-a-vis structure and organization the English volume ends up almost being a different book from the original.

That said, someone who has access only to the English version would never know this and would get the general sense about Belomor from it. A different question is whether or not one resorts to the Russian original if an English translation, especially a good one like Deborah’s, is out there. That probably is a call that an individual must make. For me, I would always go first to the Russian original and then compare it with the translation to see if the translated version holds up to scrutiny. If it does, then I’d use it. If it doesn’t then I’d use the Russian original and wade into the treacherous waters of translating it myself. I remember in grad school as future literary scholars we always were admonished to find the “canonical” text and to work from that. In this instance, for me the Russian original is the canonical text and therefore the one I’d work from.

Well, I’m reassured, at least, that no big problems emerge out of how I did this, but I definitely think you are right about going to the original. Of course, in a case like Deborah’s translation of Gulag Boss, the original has never been published. (Let’s hope that changes in the near future!)

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