Sunday, October 01, 2006


Gary Shteyngart wrote a homage to Ivan Goncharov's great comic novel Oblomov in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Shteyngart's goof is funny enough, and it's written in the spirit of “Oblomovshchina” (or, Oblomovitis, as I think it was called in the earlier translation I read some years ago). However, I don't think it is a novel I would pick up on the strength of Shteyngart's imitation alone.

Nevertheless, you should consider the novel. I think some of the comparisons below are a little too generous, but Oblomov is indeed one of the great comic novels of all time.

Here is the publisher's page for the new translation:

". . . [Goncharov] is ten heads above me in talent." —Anton Chekov

"Oblomov is a truly great work, the likes of which one has not seen for a long, long time. ... I am in rapture over Oblomov and keep rereading it." —Leo Tolstoy


Ivan Goncharov

Translated from the Russian by Stephen Pearl

Introduction by Galya Diment

Foreword by Tatyana Tolstaya

Even though Ivan Goncharov wrote several books that were widely read and discussed during his lifetime, today he is remembered for one novel, Oblomov, published in 1859, an indisputable classic of Russian literature, the artistic stature and cultural significance of which may be compared only to other such masterpieces as Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, and Fyodor Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov.

Stephen Pearl’s new translation, the first major English-language publication of Oblomov in more than fifty years, succeeds exquisitely to introduce this astonishing and endearing novel to a new generation of readers. Rich in situational comedy, psychological complexity, social satire, and incisive depictions of class, ethnicity, and sexuality, Oblomov is clearly a novel that was written for all time.

Set in St. Petersburg, Russia, Ilya Ilyich Oblomov, an amiable, middle-aged man lives in an apartment with his life-long servant, Zakhar. Oblomov sleeps much of the day, dreaming of his idyllic childhood on his ancestral estate, Oblomovka. His boyhood companion, Stoltz, now an energetic and successful businessman, visits his beloved friend Oblomov whenever he is nearby, and Oblomov's life changes when Stoltz introduces him to Olga, with whom Oblomov falls in love.

Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov was born in 1812 in Simbirsk, Russia the son of a wealthy grain merchant. Goncharov’s first novel, A Common Story, explored the conflicts in Russian society between the landed gentry and the rising middle class. Oblomov, his best-known work, published in 1859, brought him wide acclaim.

Stephen Pearl (translator) was a simultaneous interpreter at the United Nations for more than thirty years and was Chief of English Interpretation there for fifteen years. He is a graduate of St. John’s College, Oxford University with an M.A. in Classics.

Galya Diment (Introduction) is Professor and Chair of the Slavic Languages and Literatures department at the University of Washington, Seattle. She is the author of Pniniad: Vladimir Nabokov and Marc Szeftel (University of Washington Press) and The Autobiographical Novel of Co-Consciousness: Goncharov, Woolf, and Joyce (University Press of Florida). She edited Goncharov's Oblomov: A Critical Companion (Northwestern University Press).

Tatyana Tolstaya (Foreword) is a Russian novelist, short-story writer, and essayist and great-grandniece of Leo Tolstoy. Her translated collections include On the Golden Porch (1990) and Sleepwalker in a Fog (1992), stories, and Pushkin's Children: Writings on Russia and Russians (2003), essays. Her satirical novel, The Slynx (2003), is an historical allegory set in a dystopian, mutant-inhabited post-nuclear-holocaust Russia.

--Marshal Zeringue