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An NYRB Classics Original
Alexander Pushkin’s short novel is set during the reign of Catherine the Great, when the Cossacks rose up in rebellion against the Russian empress. Presented as the memoir of Pyotr Grinyov, a nobleman, The Captain’s Daughter tells how, as a feckless youth and fledgling officer, Grinyov was sent from St. Petersburg to serve in faraway southern Russia. Traveling to take up this new post, Grinyov loses his shirt gambling and then loses his way in a terrible snowstorm, only to be guided to safety by a mysterious peasant. With impulsive gratitude Grinyov hands over his fur coat to his savior, never mind the cold.
Soon after he arrives at Fort Belogorsk, Grinyov falls in love with Masha, the beautiful young daughter of his captain. Then Pugachev, leader of the Cossack rebellion, surrounds the fort. Resistance, he has made it clear, will be met with death.
At once a fairy tale and a thrilling historical novel, this singularly Russian work of the imagination is also a timeless, universal, and very winning story of how love and duty can summon pluck and luck to confront calamity.
About the Author
Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837) was born in Moscow and brought up mainly by tutors and governesses. One of his great-grandfathers, Abram Gannibal, was an African slave who became a favorite and godson of Peter the Great. Like many aristocrats, Pushkin learned Russian mainly from household serfs.
As an adolescent, he attended the new elite lyceum at Tsarskoye Selo, outside St. Petersburg. In his early twenties he was exiled because of his political verse, first to the Caucasus, then to Odessa, then to his mother’s estate in the north. Several of his friends took part in the failed 1825 Decembrist revolt, but Pushkin did not—possibly because his friends wished to protect him, possibly because they did not trust him to keep the plot secret. In 1826 Pushkin was allowed to return to St. Petersburg. During his last years he suffered many humiliations, including serious debts and worries about the fidelity of his young wife, Natalya Goncharova. In 1837 he was fatally wounded in a duel with Georges-Charles d’Anthès, the Dutch ambassador’s adopted son, who was said to be having an affair with Natalya.
Pushkin’s position in Russian literature can best be compared with that of Goethe in Germany. Not only is he Russia’s greatest poet; he is also the author of the first major works in a variety of genres. As well as his masterpieces—the verse novel Eugene Onegin and the narrative poem The Bronze Horseman—Pushkin wrote one of the first important Russian dramas, Boris Godunov (1825); one of the finest of all Russian short stories, “The Queen of Spades” (1833); and the first great Russian prose novel, The Captain’s Daughter (1836). His prose style is clear and succinct; he wrote that “Precision and brevity are the most important qualities of prose. Prose demands thoughts and more thoughts—without thoughts, dazzling expressions serve no purpose.”
Robert Chandler’s translations from Russian include Pushkin’s Dubrovsky; Nikolay Leskov’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk; Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook, Everything Flows, Life and Fate, and The Road; and Hamid Ismailov’s Central Asian novel, The Railway. His co-translations of Andrey Platonov have won prizes both in the U.K. and in the United States. He is the editor and main translator of Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida and Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov. Together with Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski, he has also compiled an anthology, The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, to be published in early 2015. He has translated selections of Sappho and Apollinaire. He teaches part time at Queen Mary, University of London and is a mentor for the British Centre for Literary Translation.
Elizabeth Chandler is a co-translator, with Robert Chandler, of several titles by Andrey Platonov and Vasily Grossman.
Honorable Mention for the MLA Lois Roth Translation Prize
"Alexander Pushkin’s classic tale The Captain’s Daughter, set in the reign of Catherine the Great, appears here in a witty and engaging version that brings the Russian author to life for anglophone readers in a new way. The challenges of translating Pushkin are well known, and they have seldom met with such sure hands as those of Robert Chandler and Elizabeth Chandler. The smooth and highly readable prose retains a Russian feel throughout, without ever seeming awkward." —from the citation for the MLA Lois Roth Translation Prize, Honorable Mention
"Robert and Elizabeth Chandler’s translation reads wonderfully . . . and captures the plot’s wildness, cruelty, and touching romance.” —Jonathan Mirsky, The Spectator
“Oh, how thoroughly is that classical book—magical. How thoroughly—hypnotic . . . Pushkin has brought Pugachev on us . . . the way you bring on sleep, a fever, a spell.” —Marina Tsvetaeva, “Pushkin and Pugachev”
“In any language, The Captain’s Daughter would be a miniature masterpiece.” —T. J. Binyon, The Daily Telegraph
“Time has done nothing to dull the excitement of the story, which, for all its romantic coincidences, is something more than a mere tale of adventure because its characters are something more than cardboard.” —The New York Times
“One brilliant feature of The Captain’s Daughter is that you don’t know what sort of narrative is unfolding.... It is a baffled reflection, from the position of political enlightenment, on the extraordinary hold exercised by violence and fanaticism upon the human race.” —A. N. Wilson, The Daily Telegraph
“The Captain’s Daughter is one of the stories in which Pushkin created Russian prose.... It is true poet’s prose, absolutely clear, objective, unpretentious and penetrating.” —Robert Conquest, The Spectator
“Pushkin’s greatest stories include the famous supernatural tale ‘The Queen of Spades’ and the thrilling historical novel about the Pugachev rebellion, The Captain’s Daughter. Everyone should read these.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post