Saturday, December 31, 2011

Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

genre: Russian fiction

Having read some Chekov a while ago, I noticed so many different references to Pushkin and Eugene Onegin that I finally purchased a copy of the novel-in-verse so I could have some sense of this Russian classic.

Eugene.  At the beginning of our story, he's a party-going night owl, living a life of ease in the city.  He finds nothing to excite him, so with disinterest and cynicism, he retreats to the country.  Shortly after his arrival he finds himself the love-interest of the intriguing  Tatyana.  Will Eugene reciprocate Tatyana's affections or will there be a typically Russian spurning?  You guess :)

What I liked about this translation is that
1. The verse is rhyming, as it is in the original Russian.  I cannot imagine how much work it takes to create a rhyming and yet contextually accurate translation of another language, but it's beautifully done. 
2. The translator did a great job of portraying the humor of our narrator - he's telling us Eugene and Tatyana's story from the perspective of an active bystander and he sees through what everyone is thinking and feeling. 

There are some pretty significant themes in this book - miscommunication is an interesting piece because all of our main characters either purposefully act stupid to cause trouble or knowingly misunderstand without ever trying to fix it.  Of course, disaster results.  Tatyana's a pillar, though, of speaking how she feels and being true to herself and everyone else.  

Onegin is a selfish little pill, if I just lay it on the line.  But, Pushkin doesn't reward callousness and egotism with happiness and fulfilled dreams.  I always appreciate that.

I loved, also, how much reading, books, and writing are a critical part of the novel.  Everyone either reads or writes when they are discontent or when they are happy.  The idea that the written word is a place of peace and comfort, a restorative, is certainly something I can relate to.

I was glad that I read most of this on a Kindle because there are lots of foreign phrases and outdated words that I didn't know.  Despite that, it really is a lovely piece of work.  When a rhyme seems trite, the narrator actually calls himself out on it.  There are some very heartfelt moments that are artfully described and our narrator's metaphors only add to the emotion.

Yes, it's Russian, with all the drama and strange names that entails.  No, it's not a beachy-type read, but I think that it's certainly a work that will provide a solid foundation when reading more modern Russian classics.

note: if you're interested in the content of the books I read, please go to

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