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The White Guard

Michael Glenny

“Great and terrible was the year of Our Lord 1918, of the Revolution the second.”

It is 1918: the Russian Revolution has just ended, Ukraine is in the midst of civil war, and in Kiev, the two Turbin brothers are preparing to fight for the White Guard in the wake of their beloved mother’s death. Friends charge in from the streets amid an atmosphere of heady chaos, downing vodka, keeling over, taking baths, playing the guitar, falling in love. But the new regime is poised for victory, and in its brutal triumph lies destruction for the Turbins and their world.

This novel, Mikhail Bulgakov’s literary debut, may in fact have saved the writer, whose works were often censored under the Soviet regime: Stalin was an avid fan of a play based on The White Guard and allegedly went to see it more than fifteen times. Michael Glenny was the first to translate Bulgakov’s works into English—this edition makes his deft, brilliant translation once again available for new readers.

MIKHAIL BULGAKOV (1891-1940) was born in Kiev. Schooled as a doctor, he gave up the practice of medicine in 1920 to devote himself to writing. He went on to write some of the greatest novels in twentieth-century Russian literature, including White Guard and Black Snow. Though Bulgakov’s work was often censored, Stalin showed his personal favor by protecting him from imprisonment and finding a job for him at the Moscow Art Theatre, where the writer would work as a director and playwright for many years. He died at the age of forty-nine from a kidney disorder. His masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, would not be published until twenty-six years after his death.

MICHAEL GLENNY (1927-1990) was at one point a British army officer, an intelligence agent in Wester Berlin, and a traveling salesman for Wedgwood china, which first took him to the Soviet Union. He eventually became most well-known as one of the world’s leading translators of Russian literature, and particularly famous for bringing dissident writers to the fore, including Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and Georgi Vladimov. He was the first to translate Mikhail Bulgakov into English, and his translations remain the definitive editions.

“Bulgakov was unique, with a voice all his own.”—The New York Review of Books

Praise for The White Guard

“The effect of reading The White Guard wasn’t the only reason I left my job in Edinburgh in 1991 and moved to Kiev, but it was part of the reason. It was a shock to discover that a modern European city, unknown to almost all west Europeans, had been described with such love in literature, to find that a poetic imagination as harsh and lyrical as Mikhail Bulgakov’s had faced the surreal sequence of invasions and sieges recounted in the novel, and recounted their absurd horrors without flinching.” —James Meek, The Guardian

“One of the classical works of modern literature.”—C. P. Snow

“A portrait of a population under siege . . . Bulgakov’s novel evokes the suffering of [the Russian Civil War] and the still greater horrors that lay ahead.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Bulgakov unfurls great fictional canvases conjuring up the atmosphere and beauty of his beloved Kiev like Pushkin . . . But beneath the effulgent lyricism there sounds a chuckle of cynicism . . . His irony is both broad and finely honed.”—Newsweek

“Infused with a passion for the old city and for its people that catches the reader up in its sweeping intensity . . . His characters have a universality that has kept them alive for half 
a century.”—The New York Times Book Review