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White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov
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White Guard (original 1926; edition 2006)

by Mikhail Bulgakov

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1,2112212,510 (3.8)92
The first complete and accurate English translation of Bulgakov's classic novel, accompanied by a substantial historical introduction White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov's semi-autobiographical first novel, is the story of the Turbin family in Kiev in 1918. Alexei, Elena, and Nikolka Turbin have just lost their mother--their father had died years before--and find themselves plunged into the chaotic civil war that erupted in the Ukraine in the wake of the Russian Revolution. In the context of this family's personal loss and the social turmoil surrounding them, Bulgakov creates a brilliant picture of the existential crises brought about by the revolution and the loss of social, moral, and political certainties. He confronts the reader with the bewildering cruelty that ripped Russian life apart at the beginning of the last century as well as with the extraordinary ways in which the Turbins preserved their humanity. In this volume Marian Schwartz, a leading translator, offers the first complete and accurate translation of the definitive original text of Bulgakov's novel. She includes the famous dream sequence, omitted in previous translations, and beautifully solves the stylistic issues raised by Bulgakov's ornamental prose. Readers with an interest in Russian literature, culture, or history will welcome this superb translation of Bulgakov's important early work. This edition also contains an informative historical essay by Evgeny Dobrenko.… (more)
Member:profgregory
Title:White Guard
Authors:Mikhail Bulgakov
Info:Vintage (2006), Paperback, 304 pages
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The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov (1926)

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English (18)  Spanish (2)  German (1)  French (1)  All languages (22)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
I've seen several reviews complimenting Evgeny Dobrenko's introduction and Marian Schwartz's translation in a different edition of this novel than the one I read, and I would recommend reading that edition rather than mine. If you, like me, know very little about the history of Ukrainian politics, you're going to need a good introduction if you to avoid playing catch-up the whole novel, like I did.

That's not to say that The White Guard is just a book about Ukrainian politics. It's about honor and betrayal, dreams and nightmares, and the importance of always having a place to go and being with people who care about you. While it lacks the signature otherworldly characteristics of Mikhail Bulgakov's other works, it's definitely his most human work.

That's also not to say it's his best. The White Guard should either be 50 pages longer or shorter than it is, with characters and ideas that aren't fully fleshed out all over the place. But I do think the quality of the Turbin family and their friends more than makes up for a questionable supporting cast.

Everything I've read from Bulgakov, regardless of its quality, involves one individual in a way that I haven't seen from any other writer of the Soviet era, whether they were party members or dissidents. That individual is a present, active God. I know nothing at all about Bulgakov's personal religious beliefs, so I have no idea whether his use of God was for literary or political purposes, but in 20th century European literature, the most shocking possible ending to a novel is for a prayer to actually be answered, so at the very least The White Guard is significant for that. What made it a great ending for me was Alexei Turbin's insistence, without knowing that his own sister's prayers (These could have been to the devil! Faust was sitting on the piano stand for quite a long time! But I doubt it) had saved his life just a few weeks earlier, that his syphilitic patient refrain from his fervent prayers every night, as it was likely making his condition even worse. Bulgakov might not have hit his peak yet, but some bits in here are as delicious as anything he ever wrote.

This was worth the read, but again, brush up on your Ukrainian history before diving in. You want to figure out which of the multitude of armies you should be rooting for, and take your time with it, because they all suck.

P.S. The metaphor with the clocks and faces blows. I don't know why anyone thinks otherwise. ( )
  bgramman | May 9, 2020 |
I had been considering this book for a long time. I had so loved The Master and Margarita that when Melville House published a set of Bulgakov translations, I got all excited. I loved Heart of a Dog, but this seemed like a lot of military history I didn't know anything about.

Well, I still know hardly anything about Ukranian military history, and I'm sure there was a lot that I missed, or was bewildered by, because I didn't understand the context, but to some level, some of that seemed appropriate. In much of this book, what is going on around the City (Kiev) is unknown, rumor, conjecture, made up on the spot. Even when the fighting is in the city itself, so much of what is going on is guesswork, as each person has to feel out for themselves when the right time is to show up for duty, to rip off one's badges, to retreat, to comply, to hide. Which power to align oneself to and to what cost.

Much more realist than both Master and Dog, it is the bewilderment of war itself that is compelling here.

Also, now I want to visit Kiev. Though perhaps now is not the time. ( )
  greeniezona | Dec 6, 2017 |
There is a sense in which – like Tolstoy’s happy families – all Russian novels are alike. A blizzard of polysyllabic names potentially confusingly embellished with the corresponding patronymics not to mention the seemingly obligatory diminutives, with always a sense of foreboding in the background, if not the foreground. You certainly don’t turn to them for sweetness and light. Then again, love, sex and death are the wider novel’s perennial preoccupations.

To be sure there isn’t much focus on love in The White Guard, no sex at all, and I can recall only three actual deaths described in the text; but the prospect of death hangs over everything. Here there can be, too, as I also noticed when reading War and Peace, a sudden lurching through time from a particular chapter to the next. One surprising thing I discovered from it is that a Ukrainian clock seems to make the sounds tonk-tank rather than tick-tock.

The novel is set in Ukraine, in “the city” (only once identified as Kiev,) amid the turmoil that followed the 1917 revolution and centres round the affairs of the Turbin family and those who live in the same building. During the novel the city starts out under the rule of the Hetman - in whose army the male Turbins serve as officers - but is threatened by Ukrainian Nationalist forces led by Simon Petlyura; and beyond that, the Bolsheviks. The disorganisation and unpreparedness of the defending forces is well portrayed – a bit like Dad’s Army but without the laughs – and the mist of rumour and counter-rumour accompanying the situation when the city falls to Petlyura conveys the commensurate sense of febrility.

Bulgakov’s first novel and the only one to be published in the USSR in his lifetime, The White Guard is an insight into an all-but forgotten moment in an interregnum of upheaval and change and is worth reading for that alone. But a marker of the futility of it all is the thought that, “Blood is red on those deep fields and no one would redeem it. No one.”

While it has touches of the fantastic, including several dream sequences, The White Guard does not (cannot) touch the heights of the same author’s The Master and Margarita but it is well worth reading on its own terms. ( )
  jackdeighton | Aug 18, 2017 |
While I love Bulgakov's the Master and Margherita, I just couldn't get into the White Guard. I didn't find it political enough, but it wasn't really personal enough either. I couldn't imagine why he would be writing this or why Stalin would see the book as a threat. ( )
  StefanieBrookTrout | Feb 4, 2017 |
I chose this for it's beautiful cover, and because I did enjoy The Master and Margarita. Still to read
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mikhail Bulgakovprimary authorall editionscalculated
彰三, 浅川Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
甫, 中田Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dobrenko, EvgenyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Güell, Josep M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Glenny, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwartz, MarianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
A fine snow at first, suddenly it came in flakes. The wind howled. It was a snowstorm now. And instant later the dark sky had blended with the snowy sea. Everything disappeared. "Well, sir," shouted the coachman, "looks bad. A blizzard!"

Alexander Pushkin, The Captain's Daughter
...and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.

Revelation 20:12
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To Liubov' Evgenevana Bulgakova
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Great was the year and terrible the Year of Our Lord 1918, the second since the Revolution has begun.
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The first complete and accurate English translation of Bulgakov's classic novel, accompanied by a substantial historical introduction White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov's semi-autobiographical first novel, is the story of the Turbin family in Kiev in 1918. Alexei, Elena, and Nikolka Turbin have just lost their mother--their father had died years before--and find themselves plunged into the chaotic civil war that erupted in the Ukraine in the wake of the Russian Revolution. In the context of this family's personal loss and the social turmoil surrounding them, Bulgakov creates a brilliant picture of the existential crises brought about by the revolution and the loss of social, moral, and political certainties. He confronts the reader with the bewildering cruelty that ripped Russian life apart at the beginning of the last century as well as with the extraordinary ways in which the Turbins preserved their humanity. In this volume Marian Schwartz, a leading translator, offers the first complete and accurate translation of the definitive original text of Bulgakov's novel. She includes the famous dream sequence, omitted in previous translations, and beautifully solves the stylistic issues raised by Bulgakov's ornamental prose. Readers with an interest in Russian literature, culture, or history will welcome this superb translation of Bulgakov's important early work. This edition also contains an informative historical essay by Evgeny Dobrenko.

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Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 030012242X, 0300151454

 

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