Sunday 4 January 2009

Bely's Petersburg

Not only have I the great fortune of choosing all the titles for our Oneworld Classics list, but I have also had the pleasure to work with Pushkin Press for the last three years, becoming more and more familiar with their wonderful list. Next month, they’ll be publishing one of my favourite books of all time (but don’t worry, I am in good company: Vladimir Nabokov rated it one of the four most important novels of the twentieth century): Andrei Bely’s Petersburg (first published in 1916 – a revised edition published in 1922). It’s a wacky, 576-page-long book – a bit like The Master and Margarita and Ulysses – and the great thing is that the Pushkin edition is a brand new translation by Bely specialist and scholar, Prof. John Elsworth.

Here’s how Petersburg begins:

“Apollon Apollonovich Ableukhov was of exceedingly venerable stock: he had Adam for his ancestor. And that is not the main thing: incomparably more important here is the fact that a high-born ancestor of his was Shem, that is to say, the very progenitor of the Semitic, Hessitic and red-skinned peoples.

Here we shall make a transition to ancestors of less distant times.

These ancestors (so it appears) had their dwelling in the Kirgiz-Kaisak Horde, from where, in the reign of Empress Anna Ioannovna, Mirza Ab-Lai, the senator’s great-great-grandfather, valiantly entered the service of Russia, receiving at his baptism the Christian name Andrei and the sobriquet Ukhov. Thus the Armorial of the Russian Empire discourses upon this descendant scion of the Mongol race. For the sake of brevity Ablai-Ukhov was later turned into simply Ableukhov.

This great-great-grandfather, it is said, proved to be the source of the line.”

Well, I hope this will persuade you to reserve a copy from Pushkin’s website or our Calder Bookshop. The book should be in the shops by the end of January, and if you order from us you’ll get it about ten days earlier.


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