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The award-winning translators of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Gogol now bring us a Russian writer ripe for rediscovery, whose earthy and exuberant stories, famous in his own country, have never before been adequately translated into English.
Leskov was Chekhov’s favorite writer and was greatly admired by Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky. His short stories—innovative in form, richly playful in language, now tragic, now satirical, now wildly comic in subject matter—exploded the prevailing traditions of nineteenth-century Russian fiction and paved the way for such famous literary successors as Mikhail Bulgakov. These seventeen stories are visionary and fantastic, and yet always grounded in reality, peopled by outsized characters that include serfs, princes, military officers, Gypsy girls, wayward monks, horse dealers, nomadic Tartars, and, above all, the ubiquitous figure of the garrulous, enthralling, not entirely trustworthy storyteller.
In stories long considered classics, Leskov takes the speech patterns of oral storytelling and spins them in new and startlingly modern ways, presenting seemingly artless yarns that are in fact highly sophisticated. It is the great gift of this new translation that it allows us to hear the many vibrant voices of Leskov’s singular art.
“Anyone reading ‘The Steppe’ in the March 1888 number of Severny Vestnik (The Northern Herald) would have recognized the young Chekhov’s debt to the celebrated master of the Russian short story, Leskov. . . . Leskov remains pungently and overpoweringly Russian. When you have read him, you really feel you have been abroad. . . . [The Enchanted Wanderer] may awaken anglophone readers to the pleasures they have been missing. . . . Leskov was in many regards—if not in his language—a very modern writer, being, together with Zola and Dickens, among the very greatest journalist-novelists of the nineteenth century.” —A. N. Wilson, The Times Literary Supplement (London)
"Outstanding. . . . A worthy monument to add to your bookshelf of prized Russian literature." —San Francisco Chronicle
“Beguiling. . . . Intensely Russian. . . . Rambling and yet engrossing. . . . There is much to enjoy in these stories, and anyone interested in the last decades of Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution will be happy to be led into its vast expanses and depths by such an intelligent and always interested guide.” —The Scotsman
“Vibrantly translated. . . . Now, thanks to this delicious new collection, the time is once again ripe for Leskov’s resurgence. . . . What impresses in Leskov is his all-seeing but unjudging eye. . . . The joie de vivre is present in varying forms throughout Leskov’s oeuvre. . . . He emerges as a literary missing link, a writer who brings the metafictional playfulness of Sterne into the Russian tradition, melding this sophistication with his embrace of the folk tale and vernacular of the common people. Then, vitally, there is his legacy to Chekhov: a moral benevolence and humor-filled acceptance of the full range of humanity. . . . A gift that, thanks to Pevear and Volokhonsky, we are newly able to share.” —Claire Messud, The New York Times Book Review
"A forgotten 19th-century Russian master, Leskov was celebrated in his own time by luminaries no less than Tolstoy and Chekhov; this collection, presented in an appropriately folksy translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, makes it easy to see why. A relic of an older mode of narrative where tight narration and characterization give way to the sheer joy of storytelling, Leskov is fond of mysticism, framing narratives, and parabolic character sketches made all the more charming by their digressions and meanderings. . . . Seasoned with equal parts humor and social commentary, Leskov's stories prove gentle but infectious portraits of the sorrow and joys of Russian peasantry. " —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"[A] forgotten genius. . . . Leskov's genius lies in the modesty of his narrators, their helplessness before the art of narrative." —The Daily Beast
"A welcome new translation of Leskov's grand metaphysical romp, a hallmark of 19th-century Russian literature. . . . A literate delight, and a book to look forward to reading more than once." —Kirkus Reviews
"In his native Russia, the 19th-century writer Nikolai Leskov is counted among the greats, yet in our country, few know his work. . . . With these translations, [Pevear and Volokhonsky] have managed a formidable job, maintaining the master's voice and allowing these essential Russian stories to retain a distinct 19th-century flavor while keeping them fresh and alive for the modern reader. . . . Leskov's stories . . . are often very funny, capturing a peculiarly Slavic gallows humor even when the stakes are dire." —BookPage
“Only once in a while do I meet anyone else who has ever even heard of this superbly comic, ultimately kindly writer. It is still inexplicable to me why Leskov has failed to catch on in the Anglophone world, but perhaps now that he is being ushered into English again, this time by that famous duo of Englishers, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky in The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories, he will stick around. The book consists of seventeen stories, including the author’s most famous, most chilling one, “The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” (upon which Shostakovich’s opera is based). . . . His narrators, always present and free with their views, are connoisseurs of misfortune, taking a certain relish in piling it on, so much so that it is almost funny. . . . . The stories–and stories within stories–meander through the overlapping natural and supernatural territories of Russian cosmology, and up and down the social order from peasant to Emperor, often continuing well beyond where ordinary reason would suggest. The tales are replete with miscellaneous, wryly described detail, side observations, and esoteric theories confidentially offered as gifts to understanding. . . . The storytellers proceed with a personal, insistent, even proprietary air, apologizing for occasional gaps in memory or detail, providing sympathetic commentary on their characters’ predicaments, edifying their listeners with illustrations of the penalties of resentment, rivalry, and schadenfreude, and extolling the wonders of the Russia of an earlier age. There is no point in summarizing the plots of these stories–they range all over the place and their greatness lies in the journey, in the narrative excursions, their grace notes and dry, ironical wit. . . . The present volume gives us a dozen more stories than the earlier one and for that we should be, as I am, extremely grateful.” —Katherine A. Powers, Barnes & Noble Review
“[Leskov is] a writer who has long been adored in Russia but whose greatness has never been fully acknowledged in English. With Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation, Leskov should at last receive the recognition he deserves. ‘Enchanted’ is precisely how Leskov’s stories come to us, and enchanted is how we, his readers, leave them. . . . Previous translations have tended to smooth out the intentional oddness and playfulness of Leskov’s style. [Pevear and Volokhonsky’s] version has made a great effort to preserve these qualities, and it has succeeded to such an extent that those who encounter this new Leskov will find themselves continually surprised by the writer’s inventiveness, by his subtlety and unexpected humor. . . . We can recognize this Leskov, in English, as a king among Russian storytellers. English readers will now be able to see why his stories have survived so long: they are not only charming and funny, poignant and exciting, but also astonishingly robust, better even than they are aware of being. . . . It is a testament both to his own resilience and to the unmatched talent of his translators that he has arrived in such brilliant color.” —The Quarterly Conversation
“Surreal, gripping, violent but comic tales.” —Margaret Atwood
“Russians have revered Nikolai Leskov's artistry for over a century, but he is little known in the West because the story-telling voices from deep in the Russian heartland that he skilfully ventriloquizes in his tales are notoriously difficult to translate. Pevear and Volokhonsky's collection of Leskov's best-known works bears all the hallmarks of their previous successes–absolute faithfulness to the author's meaning and manner, ingenious finds and formulations, and fluency in English.” —Vladimir Alexandrov, B. E. Bensinger Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Yale University
"Without Leskov there would be no Bulgakov, no Chekhov, but also no García Márquez and Julio Cortázar who read and admired him far away and long ago. Leskov is the essential storyteller: he does not portray life, he creates it in all its wonder and terror and magic." —Alberto Manguel
"Nikolai Leskov's absence from classic Russian literature lists must end now! If you like Russian, and you like funny, you will love Leskov." —Gary Shteyngart
"Stories as strong as fables and crazy as life." —Alice Munro