To the Editor:
Your reviewer of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov [March] might have taken the trouble to get his facts right before accusing Grove Press of rushing through our translation of the book in the knowledge that we would have to beat Harper & Row. All it would have taken was a telephone call from Ernst Pawel to us to correct this before it appeared in print.
The facts are that Grove commissioned the translation of The Master and Margarita immediately after the first installment appeared in Moskva, unaware that anyone else was proceeding with another translation. Harper kept its own project quiet until several months had passed, and when word finally leaked out about Harper’s impending publication, our own translation had advanced to the point where it would have been impossible to discard. As it happened, the availability of the Grove translation makes it possible to compare the novel in two different versions, and, in fact, your own reviewer concedes that ours is the superior translation. Evidently, in using the phrase, the “Moskva-Grove version was significantly mutilated,” he failed to make the necessary line-by-line comparison between the two versions, nor did he point out that Bulgakov never finished the book while he was alive. His unfinished novel, including drafts of chapters representing duplications, was prepared for print by a group of Soviet editors and writers. For instance, your reviewer claims the sentence, “One of man’s greatest sins is cowardice,” is dropped from the Grove version for political reasons. Had he looked at pp. 334 and 386, he would have found the sentence, not once, but twice, with the one difference that the word mistranslated in the Harper version as “sin” is given its correct rendering in the Grove version as “vice.” If your reviewer prefers to regard this editing process as censorship, that is his privilege, but in the interest of truth, he should have explained the circumstances instead of fighting the cold war over one of the great masterpieces of modern Russian literature. I would appreciate your correcting the most salient points of Mr. Pawel’s review. . . .
Grove Press, Inc.
New York City