Constantly struggling for contemporary relevance, translations of The Brothers Karamazov spark plenty of controversy among critics. Translator Asghar Rastegar publishes the latest Persian edition.
Celebrated as one of the greatest novels ever written, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov has recently made news in Iran. According to the Tehran Times, Asghar Rastegar has published the latest version of the novel, translated into Persian under Negah publishing in Tehran.
Translated into dozens of languages worldwide, The Brothers Karamazov has influenced a number of 20th century writers and intellectuals. After spending nearly two years writing the novel, Dostoyevsky died just months after its publication.
A murder mystery and courtroom drama, the story centers around Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons. Through the series of events that unravel the story of these characters, the book attempts to depict the whole of Russian life.
“The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.”
Like most translated texts, getting it right is nearly impossible. Indeed, Constance Garnett, the first English translator of The Brothers Karamazov, has received immense criticism for her overly Victorian thumbprint on the narrative.
About Garnett’s translation, Joseph Brodsky said, “The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.”
While his criticism may seem harsh, it also touches on a difficult reality of translation: the translator’s voice can overwhelm a text and make the translation irrelevant once shifting trends have emerged in the adopted language. With such changes in fashions and attitudes, contemporary translations can often shed light on the source text in fresh ways and update the language to suit a contemporary audience, particularly when the translator works directly with a native speaker of the original language.
In the case of Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear, new translations can even overtake the initial attempt in faith to the original work. Still, even for a work that only delivers a minor contribution, though, just one sentence can still make open a world of fresh understanding.
Whether Asghar Rastegar’s translation will attain a foothold for Persian language critics is yet to be seen. However, his contribution to the library of Dostoyevsky translations will likely bring a valuable insight into the global cultural phenomenon the book has become.