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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Gnedich

by
Maria Rybakova


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Gnedich



Title: Gnedich
Author: Maria Rybakova
Genre: Novel
Written: 2011 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 112 pages
Original in: Russian
Availability: Gnedich - US
Gnedich - UK
Gnedich - Canada
  • Russian title: Гнедич
  • Translated by Elena Dimov

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Our Assessment:

B+ : nicely done

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 7/9/2012 Andrew Kahn


  From the Reviews:
  • "Rybakova creates a compelling inner life in which heroic aspirations, inspired by Homeric episodes, vie with a Horatian acknowledgement of the vanity of human wishes. (...) The chronological framework is managed in the style of time-lapse photography, blurring the interchange of seasons and years. (...) She also has a superb ear for seamlessly layering different registers, such as the vernacular of Pushkin’s generation and the archaic of high-style epic. Her winningly touching novel deserves an afterlife of its own in an English translation." - Andrew Kahn, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A biographical novel about Russian poet and translator of the Iliad Nikolai Gnedich (1784-1833), Gnedich is, appropriately, a novel in verse. In twelve 'songs' Rybakova offers not a detailed life-of but an impressionistic portrait. More or less chronological, Rybakova's poem manages to be life-retelling despite only using a few incidents and acquaintances, as well as some details from Gnedich's life and work.
       Rybakova suggests a disfiguring illness in his youth is defining: "one-eyed Gnedich: / he is half-blind and pockmarked" from a bout of smallpox at age twelve. He romanticizes what came before -- and the bright future lost: "I do not want to remember what I was -- before". A romantic soul, he uses his ugliness as an excuse for being thwarted in love. He idolizes the legendary actress Ekaterina Semyonova and though they are close: "she was like a statue / about to descend from the pedestal but she never did".
       Gnedich finds some satisfaction in his work as a librarian, while his childhood friend Batyushkov writes from abroad, trying to entice him to explore the greater world -- even as his own example leads just to madness and institutionalization, leaving Gnedich feeling that he has betrayed his friend. As to his own, disfigured life, he's always fatalistic;

I have no future.
Je n'ai qu'un livre (I have only one book),
my childhood favorite, The Iliad.

       As he tries to convince himself: "your job is to translate Homer / to be loved -- is not your business". The translation is not his only life's-work, but it remains what he is best known for (and it is still highly thought of).
       A nice counter-figure in the poem is the cleaner Gnedich hires, illiterate Elena, who goes on to work for him for many years, while: "she saw the master only once -- / then, at the very beginning", at her introductory interview. But she gets to know the man in his absence, through the small changes, over the years, in the apartment that she scours -- among Rybakova's most impressively imagined scenes. At one point Elena also removes some books from the trash, not sure whether or not they weren't discarded by mistake; she takes them home and an acquaintance who can read, Thomas, reads them aloud, completely captivating Elena and her brother with the story -- 'Don Corrado de Guerrera, or the Spirit of Revenge and Treachery of Spaniards', a novel Gnedich had written when he was twenty, "imagining this would win the hearts of his female readers" -- but now just another symbol of his failures. (The novel had indeed been published in 1803, but remains obscure.)
       Gendich's own poetry, as well as the Homer he was translating, form a foundation of sorts to the novel -- and the language of the novel -- and helps, even in translation, to form a convincing portrait of the relatively unfamiliar figure of Gnedich. Though perhaps overindulging in some of the basic markers -- notably Gendich's disfigured ugliness, which Rybakova has him rather wallowing in -- it is a full portrait, in a relatively short novel. Written in free verse, Rybakova balances evocative indulgence with enough dramatic tension in a surprisingly compelling narrative; the tangential stories of both Batyushkov and Elena a welcome contrast to Gnedich's own rather limited activity.
       Gnedich is a fine piece of work, both satisfying poet/translator portrait and enjoyable read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 July 2016

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Links:

Gnedich: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Russian author Maria Rybakova (Мария Александровна Рыбакова) was born in 1973.

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© 2016 the complete review

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