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Which War & Peace translation you should pick?

War and Peace is an intimidating book with its sheer volume. But since I have decided to pick it up naturally I searched online on tips before starting War & Peace. One of the most common pieces of advice among them is to pick a good translation.

So, if you don’t know then War and Peace is originally written in Russian with French dialect also in between. After that many people have tried translating the original saga, some of them trying to be faithful to the original, and some trying to make it more understandable to English speakers.

The more I was trying to look for the best translation, the more confused I was because it is very subjective and hence there are so many opinions. The best way to find out which translation works for you it is to go through the first pages of all of them.

Here is the quick summary of my research of the most popular translations.

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation

Now, this is the most commonly available translation. The husband-wife duo has done an amazing job in this translation and it has remained quite faithful to the original. However, I somehow struggle to understand it. The words used are unnecessarily complex and sentence formation is not very fluid.

Here is the first page of the book

Now, if you are looking to buy this translation, Russian vintage classics are the most beautiful edition of this translation available in the market.

Aylmer and Louise Maude translation

Now this translation has been claimed by critics to be the most faithful translation. Maude knew Tolstoy personally and Tolstoy also approved his translation.

However, the earlier versions of this translation are criticized for Anglicized names and losing the French dialects. Later Amy Mandelker edited the translation and restored the names and French dialects.

Here is a snippet of the first page

Now for this translation, Oxford classics is the most beautiful edition in the market. This translation is also available in Gutenberg’s public domain.

Anthony Briggs translation

Now, this is one of the most loved translations of War and Peace. And the reason being the fluidity of the language. Now, many critics say that it is not the most faithful translation but is widely loved by the readers because it is very easy to get through. It is also Penguin’s chosen translation

Here is a snippet of this translation:

For this translation, Penguin clothbound editions are the most beautiful editions in the market

Which translation did I choose?

Even though I had eyes on this gorgeous Russian vintage classic editions, I found PV’s translation quite difficult to go through. Briggs’s translation is beautiful but I feel it is a little too modernized and somehow losing the essence of the classic Russian literature.

I found Maude’s translation has the right balance of authenticity and language fluidity. And hence I picked the Oxford classics edition for this and I am loving it so far.

Now I again this is very subjective and it might be different for you. So, feel free to pick the translation that suits you best.

Ques: If you have read War and Peace, which is the translation who have picked?

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  1. Dave Dave

    I read the Briggs and loved it but I just started the Maude/Mandelker and am really enjoying it so far. I think, unfortunately, that it is impossible to read it in English and get the entire essence that a native Russian speaker would get, but having multiple competent and slightly different English versions to choose from is also nice for those who fall in love with it and plan on reading it multiple times.

  2. dave dave

    I read Briggs first, and really loved it, but now I am rereading it in the 1968 Ann Dunnigan translation, which I think is another outstanding option. It was used for the Signet printings. It is pretty similar to Briggs, in that (nearly) all of the French is translated in the main text (only the French greetings and maybe a few other short phrases are left in French), and it is highly readable, but then again, so is the Garnett and the Maude translations. The only difficult one seems to be the P&V, from what I’ve sampled of each. I own four different ones (because I’m nuts).

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