|Tolstoy at 20
Not long ago Calypso Publishing invited me to a reception to celebrate the publication of their first book, How Much Land Does A Man Need, a translation of the Tolstoy (1828 to 1910) story by Boris Dralyuk.
When I read the mission statement of Calypso Publishing I was reminded somehow of Virginia and Leonard Woolf working at Hogarth Press, producing books notable not only for their content but books that are works of art themselves.
Calypso Editions is an artist-run, cooperative press dedicated to publishing quality literary books of poetry and fiction with a global perspective. We believe that literature is essential to building an international community of readers and writers and that books can serve as a physical artifact of beauty and wonder in a world of digital saturation.
When I advised them I could not come they kindly offered to send me an e-book. The translator, Boris Dralyuk studies Russian Language and literature at UCLA. In his well written very informative introduction to the work Brian Evenson places the story in the context of the work and life of Tolstoy and in the tradition of folk tales and fables. "How Much Land Does A Man Need" was written seventeen years after War and Peace and nine years after Anna Karenina. I do not have the ability to say if this is a good translation or not but I did read in addition to this translation an old now in the public domain translation and Dralyuk's version was much better written and more direct. There is also a Russian text of the work and that makes the book a great class room or language learning tool.
Fables go way back to the very start of literature. Much of the wisdom of world has been transmitted down the ages in fables and fairy tales. Speaking in a purely secular fashion, the great religious texts of the world can be seen a collections of fables. In a fable the characters represent types or are used to teach a moral lesson. This is what Tolstoy does in "How Much Land Does a Man Need" but he brings the characters to life. I felt I was walking the land and enjoying the company of tribal peoples while feeling concern for what was going to happen to our lead character. Unlike in a simple Fable, the characters are real people with great details that make us feel we know them. James Joyce said it was "the greatest story that the literature of the world knows". I really felt like I was there. As we are meant to, I wondered what I would do were I the main character of this story.
"How Much Land Does a Man Need" has the power to make us rethink our values and our lives. I commend Calypso Editions for this great first publication and expect great things from them.
Their webpage is here