The First New Translation in Forty Years Set sometime between the mid-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century, Gogol's epic tale recounts both a bloody Cossack revolt against the Poles (led by the bold Taras Bulba of Ukrainian folk mythology) and the trials of Taras Bulba's two sons. As Robert Kaplan writes in his Introduction, "["Taras Bulba] has a Kiplingesque gusto . . . that makes it a pleasure to read, but central to its theme is an unredemptive, darkly evil violence that is far beyond anything that Kipling ever touched on. We need more works like "Taras Bulba to better understand the emotional wellsprings of the threat we face today in places like the Middle East and Central Asia." And the critic John Cournos has noted, "A clue to all Russian realism may be found in a Russian critic's observation about Gogol: 'Seldom has nature created a man so romantic in bent, yet so masterly in portraying all that is unromantic in life.' But this statement does not cover the whole ground, for it is easy to see in almost all of Gogol's work his 'free Cossack soul' trying to break through the shell of sordid today like some ancient demon, essentially Dionysian. So that his works, true though they are to our life, are at once a reproach, a protest, and a challenge, ever calling for joy, ancient joy, that is no more with us. And they have all the joy and sadness of the Ukrainian songs he loved so much."
"From the Hardcover edition.
Set sometime between the mid-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century, Gogol's epic tale recounts both a bloody Cossack revolt against the Poles (led by the bold Taras Bulba of Ukrainian folk mythology) and the trials of Taras Bulba's two sons. As Robert Kaplan writes in his Introduction, Ã¢Â€Âœ[Taras Bulba] has a Kiplingesque gusto . . . that makes it a pleasure to read, but central to its theme is an unredemptive, darkly evil violence that is far beyond anything that Kipling ever touched on. We need more works like Taras Bulba to better understand the emotional wellsprings of the threat we face today in places like the Middle East and Central Asia.Ã¢Â€Â And the critic John Cournos has noted, Ã¢Â€ÂœA clue to all Russian realism may be found in a Russian critic's observation about Gogol: 'Seldom has nature created a man so romantic in bent, yet so masterly in portraying all that is unromantic in life.' But this statement does not cover the whole ground, for it is easy to see in almost all of Gogol's work his 'free Cossack soul' trying to break through the shell of sordid today like some ancient demon, essentially Dionysian. So that his works, true though they are to our life, are at once a reproach, a protest, and a challenge, ever calling for joy, ancient joy, that is no more with us. And they have all the joy and sadness of the Ukrainian songs he loved so much.Ã¢Â€Â
Peter Constantine was awarded the 1998 PEN Translation Award for "Six Early Stories by Thomas Mann and the 1999 National Translation Award for "The Undiscovered Chekhov: Forty-Three New Stories, and has been widely acclaimed for his recent translation of the complete works of Isaac Babel. His translations of fiction and poetry have also appeared in "The New Yorker, "Harper's, "Grand Street, "Paris Review, "Fiction, "Harvard Magazine, "Partisan Review, and "London Magazine, among others. He lives in New York City.
Robert D. Kaplan is a correspondent for "The Atlantic Monthly and the author
"One of the ten greatest books of all time." --Ernest Hemingway
"One of the ten greatest books of all time." -Ernest Hemingway From the Hardcover edition.
The First New Translation in Forty Years
1 "Turn around and let me look at you! What a sight! What are you wearing there, a priest''s cassock or something? Is that how you run around at that academy of yours?" These were the words with which old Bulba greeted his two sons, who, having completed their studies at the Seminary in Kiev, had come home to their father. The sons had just dismounted from their horses. They were robust young men, with the sullen look one sees in all Seminary students recently released. Their strong, healthy faces were covered with a first down that had not yet been touched by a razor. Embarrassed by the way their father welcomed them, they stared sullenly at the ground. "Wait, wait! Let me get a good look at you!" Bulba continued, turning them around. "What are these long tunics you''re wearing, if you can even call them that? I''ve never seen the like! Take a few steps--I swear they''ll get caught between your legs, and you''ll go flying!" "Don''t make fun of us, Papa!" the older of the boys finally said. "Look how high and mighty he is! And why, pray, shouldn''t I make fun of you?" "Because, well . . . even though you''re my papa, if you make fun of me, then by God I''ll thrash you!" "Ha! You damn son of a you-know-what! Your own father?" Taras Bulba shouted, staggering back in surprise. "Yes, even though you''re my father. Insult me, and I don''t care who you are!" "So how do you want to fight, with your fists?" "Any way you want!" "Well then, show me your fists!" Taras Bulba said, pulling up his sleeves. "I''d like to see what kind of man you are with your fists!" Father and son, instead of greeting each other after their long separation, began throwing punches at each other''s stomach and chest, stepping back to glare at each other and then attacking again. "Neighbors, villagers!" shouted the boys'' pale, gaunt mother, who was standing on the threshold and had not had a chance to embrace her beloved children. "The old man''s gone mad! His mind''s unhinged! The boys come home, we haven''t seen them for over a year, and what does he do? Fly at them with his fists!" "He fights well, this one!" Bulba gasped, stopping for a moment. "By God, he fights well!" he continued, catching his breath. "So well that I''d have done better not to test him. He''ll make a good Cossack, this one! I welcome you, my son! Let us kiss!" And father and son kissed. "Well done, my boy! You can get the better of any man if you go at him the way you went at me! Show mercy to no one. But I still think you''re wearing the oddest clothes I''ve ever seen! What''s this string hanging there? And you," he shouted, turning to his younger son. "You Grand Padishah, why are you standing there with your arms dangling? You son of a dog, aren''t you going to punch me too?" Padishah = "Great Emperor." The title of the sultan of Turkey. "What will he think of next?" the mother gasped, throwing her arms around the boy. "He wants his own flesh and blood to raise a hand to him! That''s all we need! The boy is young, has had a long journey, and must be exhausted!" (The boy was nearly twenty and well over six feet tall.) "He has to rest and eat a bite of food, and the old fool wants to fight him!" "You''re a milksop, I see!" Bulba said. "Don''t listen to your mother, my boy! She''s a woman, she knows nothing! What do you need sweetness for? An open field and a good horse, that''s all the sweetness you need! You see this saber? This saber is your mother! They''ve been filling your heads with filth, that''s what they''ve been doing! The Seminary, and all those little books and primers and philosophy and the devil knows what else--I spit on it all!" And Bulba slipped in a word that cannot appear in print. "What I ought to do is send you this very week to Zaporozhe. That''s where you will find some real learning. There you''ll get some schooling. There you''ll really learn something!" "The boys are only staying home a week?" the distraught mother gasped, her eyes filling with tears. "The poor boys won''t even have a chance to enjoy themselves a little. They won''t have a chance to get to know their own home, and I won''t be able to get my fill of looking at them!" "Enough! Enough whining, old woman! Cossacks aren''t Cossacks so they can hobnob with women! Given half a chance you''d hide them under your skirt and sit on them like a hen. Off with you, quick, and get the table ready! Lay out everything we have! No need for fritters and poppyseed cakes, or any other delicate little morsels; just bring out some mutton and some goat, and the forty-year-old mead. And some good vodka, none of that fancy liquor with raisins and other little knickknacks in it! I want my vodka so clear and frothing that it hisses and whirls like it''s possessed!" A settlement on the Dnieper in Ukraine, where the Zaporozhian Cossacks had their base camp, the Sech. Bulba led his sons into the front room. Two pretty maids wearing coin necklaces, who had been busy cleaning, dropped everything and ran. They were evidently frightened by the arrival of the young masters, who never let anyone alone, or else they simply wanted to stick to their girlish ways, squealing and bolting whenever they saw a man, lifting their sleeves to their faces, hiding them in shame. The front room was furnished in the taste of those difficult, warring times, when battles and skirmishes broke out because of the union with Poland. Living traces of those days are found only in the songs and folk epics sung in the Ukraine by old, bearded, blind men quietly strumming their banduras, surrounded by a crowd. Everything was clean and brightly painted. On the walls hung sabers, whips, bird traps, fishnets, muskets, an intricately carved gunpowder horn, a golden bridle, and a hobble with silver pendants. The windows were small, with round, dim panes such as are now found only in old churches, and through which one could only see if one raised the movable panels. Red drapes hung by the windows and doors. On shelves in the corners stood pots, bottles, flasks of blue and green glass, ornate silver goblets, and gilded cups of every handicraft--Venetian, Turkish, Circassian--that had made their way into Bulba''s front room by many paths and through many hands, as was not unusual for those swashbuckling times. Birch benches ran along the walls in all the rooms. Beneath the icons in the prayer corner stood a massive table, and near it a stove with many ledges and protuberances, surrounded by warm benches. The stove was covered with bright multicolored tiles. All this was very familiar to the two young men, who in the past had walked home every year during the holidays because they did not yet have horses, and because it was not customary to allow students of the Seminary to ride. The only Cossack tradition they had kept was the long forelock, the chub, which seasoned Cossacks tugged at in jest.++ Now that A bandura is a lutelike instrument used by Ukrainian bards to accompany sung ballads and epics. + Circassia is a region in the northern Caucasus. ++ Ukrainian Cossacks shaved their heads, leaving only a forelock, known as chub. they had finished their studies, Bulba had sent them a pair of young stallions from his own herd. To celebrate his sons'' arrival, Bulba called in all the Cossack captains and anyone from his regiment who was within reach. And when his old comrade Captain Dimitro Tovkach came with two officers, Bulba immediately presented his sons to them. "Here--see what fine boys these are! I''ll be sending them to the Sech soon." The guests congratulated Bulba and the two young men, assuring them that it was a good idea, that there was no better schooling for young men than the Zaporozhian Sech. "Well, my brothers, seat yourselves at the table wherever you like!" Bulba shouted, and turned to his sons. "First we shall down some vodka! God''s blessings upon you, and good health to the two of you! To you, Ostap, and to you, Andri! May God grant that success always follow you in battle, whether you fight heathen, Turk, or Tatar fiend. And if the damn Poles start plotting against our religion, then may you thrash them too! Come, hand me your cup! Good vodka, no? So how does one say ''vodka'' in Latin? Ha! Well, my son, those Romans were fools--they didn''t even know there was such a thing as vodka! What was that fellow''s name again, the one who wrote little Latin ditties? I''m not much of a lettered man, so it''s not coming to me right now. Wasn''t it Horace, or something?" "Ha, that''s my father for you!" Ostap, the older of the two boys, thought. "There''s nothing the old scoundrel doesn''t know, and yet he pretends not to." "It would surprise me if the Archimandrite at the Seminary let you have so much as a whiff of vodka," Taras continued. "And I trust you were given robust birch-wood and fresh cherry-wood whippings across your backs and your other Cossack parts! And perhaps the cleverer you got the more you got to taste the cat-o''-nine-tails. And Archimandrite: the head of a Russian Orthodox monastery or group of monasteries. not only on Saturdays, I''m sure, but on Wednesdays and Thursdays too!" "There is no reason to remember what was, Papa," Ostap answered coolly. "What was is now past and gone!" "I''d like to see them try something now!" Andri said. "I''d like to see someone so much as try to touch us. Let some Tatar dog cross my path, and I''ll teach him what a Cossack saber is!" "Well spoken, my son! By God, wel
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