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Peter the Great's African

Peter the Great's African

Experiments in Prose

by Alexander Pushkin, translated from the Russian by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, and Boris Dralyuk, edited and with an afterword by Robert Chandler

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April selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club

Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s foundational writer, was constantly experimenting with new genres, and this fresh selection ushers readers into his creative laboratory. Politics and history weighed heavily on Pushkin’s imagination, and in “Peter the Great’s African” he depicts the Tsar through the eyes of one of his closest confidantes, Ibrahim, a former slave, modeled on Pushkin’s maternal great-grandfather. At once outsider and insider, Ibrahim offers a sympathetic yet questioning view of Peter’s attempt to integrate his vast, archaic empire into Europe. In the witty “History of the Village of Goriukhino” Pushkin employs parody and self-parody to explore problems of writing history, while “Dubrovsky” is both a gripping adventure story and a vivid picture of provincial Russia in the late eighteenth century, with its class conflicts ready to boil over in violence. “The Egyptian Nights,” an effervescent mixture of prose and poetry, reflects on the nature of artistic inspiration and the problem of the poet’s place in a rapidly changing and ever more commercialized society.

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681375991
Pages: 208
Publication Date:


It is not enough to say that Gannibal’s great-grandson became a poet, even a great poet. Pushkin, it is often claimed, invented the Russian literary language itself.
—Jennifer Wilson, New York Review of Books

Notably, all poetic sections appear in rhymed, metrical verse. It is challenging to produce iambic tetrameters in modern English that sound serious, let alone a worthy of Pushkin, yet these translators pull off a miracle, using a delicate combination of full and half-rhymes to prevent the magnificent poem that concludes “Egyptian Nights” (155-157) from sounding like a children’s song. To translate a work in which the distinction between poetry and prose is central, however, this feat is indeed a necessary miracle.
—Emily Wang, Slavic and East European Journal

Pushkin is everywhere.
—Elif Batuman

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.
—Judges of the MLA Lois Roth Translation Prize on The Captain’s Daughter

As a bonus to this fine translation of ‘Dubrovsky,’ Robert Chandler includes ‘Egyptian Nights,’ Pushkin’s original mix of prose and verse. . . . Chandler shows that he is as gifted at translating verse as he is with prose.
—Donald Rayfield

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