The Same Old Story
By Ivan Goncharov
Translated by Stephen Pearl
Stephen Pearl’s new translation of Goncharov’s Obyknovennaya Istoriya, will introduce English speakers to a Russian classic that made its author famous, and which is just as amusing and fascinating as Goncharov’s better known Oblomov, which probably owes its greater fame to the fact that the self-indulgence of the eponymous Oblomov became part of the Russian vocabulary. The same psychological insight that makes Oblomov so compelling permeates The Same Old Story with its contrast between Alexander, a young nobleman fresh from the simplicity of country life, and the older uncle, Pyotr. Readers of whatever age and from very milieu will recognize in themselves Alexander’s unreal ambitions and expectations and the sadder but wiser responses of Uncle Pyotr.
As Nicholas Lezard said, in reviewing this new translation in the British Guardian, Goncharov’s genius lies in his ability to make us root for both: for the young foolish romantic nephew who believes in the “greatness of soul and the imperishability of true love,” and for his uncle, whose ‘job,’ as he sees it, is to ” drive all this rubbish from Alexander’s head.”