One of my favorite books is Anna Karenina. It’s a bit long, but I’ve read it several times. Plus it’s one of the only books where I actually love the movie adaptation.
(Which has nothing to do with my intense love of watching Aaron Taylor Johnson like a hawk.)
It also boasts arguably the greatest first line in all of literature:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I love that quote. It makes an impact, it’s relatable, & it sets the tone for the entire story.
But, wait…Tolstoy never actually wrote those words. In fact, every time I finish Anna Karenina I have to sit back & remind myself, this whole thing wasn’t even in English at one point.
That quote above is actually a very specific one by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Had I read another Louise and Aylmer Maude’s translation, it would read:
“All happy families resemble one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Translating content so that it’s initial meaning is still in tact is difficult. For example, the word for “room,” “seat,” & “place” in Russian are all the same! What’s the point of a great sentence if nobody can read it properly? There’s been debate & comparisons over which translation is most favored for years. I’ll include some sources for that at the end of this post.