Sketches from a Hunter's Album by Ivan Turgenev20 Sep 2023
Note: This book review has no spoilers!
I ordered the paperback edition on Amazon, translated by Constance Garnett. After a few days I noticed it would take a couple of weeks to arrive, so I got the digital version in the meantime, as I didn’t want to be late for our monthly book club.
The introduction was a bit overly complex, too much information about the stories which you haven’t even read. I feel like it should have been an afterword as opposed to a foreword or introduction.
I feel like it was a hard book to get into at first, some chapters are easy but some felt very complicated, the writing style felt a bit heavy sometimes. If words could wear a trenchcoat on a hot humid day, some of the chapters felt that way.
Yet after reading about 100 pages of the digital version (which had around 500) I received the actual book… and I hadn’t noticed it was translated by Constance Garnett, while the ebook was translated by Richard Freeborn!
They were translated and written in such different styles that when I started reading the physical book I found it unreadable. It was such a shock as the style and expression were too different; I was finding the writing style of the digital edition slightly humorous in some ways, which felt lacking in the version by Constance Garnett, the tone is that of a very serious work, with more complicated sentence structures and grammar.
So for the rest of the book I alternated between the digital version and the physical book, depending on where I was. It was a rather interesting experience, as it felt like the author had split personalities… a quite novel way to digesting a book!
I found this paragraph utterly stunning, with a vivid visual quality that I find lacking in most modern literature:
Imagine to yourself a man of about forty-five, tall and lean, with a long delicate nose, a narrow forehead, little grey eyes, dishevelled hair and wide, scornful lips. This man used to go about winter and summer in a yellowish nankeen coat of German cut, but belted with a sash; he wore wide blue trousers and a cap edged with astrakhan which had been given him, on a jovial occasion, by a bankrupt landowner
I feel like a lot of modern literature attempts to embelish the visual qualities of a character by overly utilising adjectives, when sometimes you need to think outside the box a bit. Or it could just be the complexity of the character dictates how one should describe them. Maybe I’m overthinking this.
The biggest 4 takeaways I got from the book:
- The treatment of women and children in general, and the class structure and discrimination are horrible
- It gives a very intense recollection of scenes and moments in a period of time, and from the perspective of hunters which is something that would have never crossed my mind before to research or listen about… the lifestyle, sometimes ending up here or there, without much thought about time or place, is just so different from modern times with 9 to 5 jobs
- English has such a vast vocabulary, and given that there are such incredibly massive ways of arranging them to construct beautiful depictions of scenes saddens me, as the author obviously has a knack for creating such visual descriptions which I can only admire and wish I had but a tenth of their ability
- The literary style and complexity, but also the constant references to wealth versus poverty, and french popping up everywhere, reminded me so much of War and Peace, which I never fully read unfortunately
I find this review / article to be much more fulfilling and better researched than my own subjective opinion, so if you’d like a broader context of the book and environment in which it was written, I’d recommend having a read through that brief article - 7.5/10