Pianist attacks Penguin Books

Pianist attacks Penguin Books


norman lebrecht

June 08, 2016

From Daniil Trifonov, Tchaikovsky Competition gold medallist:

I don’t often express myself on non-musical topics, but what has happened in London Underground has forced me to speak out.

Penguin’s latest ad campaign has unattributed quotes from classic books and includes this one by Turgenev. Taken out of context and with its original meaning changed I find this offensive and nothing short of racist – of course Russians need liberalism, progress and principles as much as any other nation. Please visit change.org here to add your name to the petition calling for the ad’s removal and official apology:


It’s a shame that established publishing house tries to make money in such cheap and pitiful way.

trifonov penguin

From the petition:

A set of posters have been placed in London Underground by Penguin Random House, which read:

“Aristocracy, liberalism, progress, principles.. Useless words! A Russian doesn’t need them!” 

Penguin Random House took a quote from the novel “Fathers and Sons” by Ivan Turgenev and disgracefully twisted the original meaning of it. The original quote is:

“Aristocracy, liberalism, progress, principles … what a lot of foreign … and useless words. A Russian would not want them as a gift”

Penguin Random House has intentionally cited the quote to take a true meaning out of context and have intentionally chosen NOT to include the author and the name of the book on their poster.


  • Will Duffay says:

    ‘Racist’. Nonsense. Russians aren’t a race. This is an absurd manufactured outrage. The quote is in quotation marks, so it’s clearly what it’s about. If these people really want to get upset they should look inside the front cover of the new edition, which has the same quote…

    • John Man says:

      Nonsense. Nothing “manufactured” about it, unless you’re using that word as loosely as a non-native English speaker is using the term “race ” above.
      Perhaps if you understood the historical context of the Turgenev quote, you’d realize how it’s being misused in the subway.

  • Una says:


    • V.Lind says:

      Well, clearly anti-Russian. Stop sweating the small stuff. Mr. Triifonov has every right to be annoyed.

      • Will Duffay says:

        Not clearly anti-Russian at all. Nobody has any right to be annoyed. Well, they have a ‘right’ to be annoyed, but no justification for being annoyed. This is a manufactured outrage, to repeat, and by that I mean that Russians are being fed a diet of nonsense by their leaders to make it sound like the world is against them. Presumably to deflect attention from real issues.

      • Furzwängler says:

        What a load of pompous hot air. Trifonov should stick to tinkling the ivories.

        Much Ado About Nothing.

  • esfir ross says:

    Ignorant D.Trifonov. It’s well said by Turgenev through Bazarov and not out of context.
    Russian’s etnic group of white race. Sound like D.Trifonov’s poor educated,too.

    • Steven Holloway says:

      Of course it is out of context, and it is misquoted. What in the…advertisement(?) tells a passer-by that it is from Turgenev’s Father’s and Sons, set in the mid-19th.c., and putatively expresses the thinking of Bazarov, a Nihilist whose repudiation of every concept or principle that comes within sniffing distance is so rampant he has a hard time keeping up with himself — especially when it comes to love. Hanging in a tube station in this form, it is open to any number of misinterpretations and misapprehensions. No, it is not racist, but Trifinov is simply misusing that word as most English-language speakers do themselves, a constant irritation. His central point, however, is well-taken.

      • Jaybuyer says:

        ‘putatively’ Mmm. …A new Russian/Kasakh tennis star turned up at Roland Garros – Putintseva. They are taking over the world

  • herrera says:

    Trifonov seems to have forgotten one other value Russians don’t seem to need: freedom of expression.

    Somehow, I don”t think Turgenev needs Trifonov’s coming to his rescue.

    What else is going on in the London tube that Trifonov finds offensive? Some poor musician playing Tchaikovsky taken out of context and intentionally not identifying the piece and the composer?

    • Holly Golightly says:

      I expect Daniil’s taken his cue from the burgeoning offense industry which has been brought to us courtesy of the politically correct Left. Amazing how these sample people love to shut down others who disagree. Or is it really amazing? Just more evidence of the Left’s growing authoritarianism.

  • David Osborne says:

    Turgenev suffered way more at the hands of Dostoevsky- read ‘The Possessed’… (no really do read it, dark as all f*** but amazing) But yes, it does strike me as a little disrepectful of Russian culture in a way that really only Russians could explain, so some understanding here please.

  • M2N2K says:

    It is taken out of context, misquoted, unattributed, misused — but otherwise just perfect… How much outrage is warranted depends on one’s perspective, but there is no question that such ads are very wrong.

    • Peter says:

      Neither do Americans. The next stage of the Penguin campaign will replace Russian with American.
      Clever campaign.

      • M2N2K says:

        Clever, maybe. Dishonest — definitely.

      • MWnyc says:

        I have no doubt that Penguin could, and likely will, find a similarly unflattering quote about Americans or the United States from a classic work of American literature and use it the same way.

        • M2N2K says:

          And if they do that as sloppily as in this case, then Americans will also have a valid reason to object.

  • Jaybuyer says:

    Forgive my ignorance, but what is this ad in the Tube actually advertising? I can’t see anything else but the Penguin logo. Or are we meant to have ‘deep thoughts’ as we join the crush to get to work on time?

  • Meri says:

    It was a misquote, and Penguin is supposedly a reputable publishing house. Trifonov had every right to challenge it. As for the alleged racism – there is a lot of Russophobia around. Use of the quote in this way, to my mind, does seem to exacerbate that attitude.

    • Charlie says:

      It is not a misquote and anyone who ever sat in a Rus lit class and actually paid attention knows it.

  • Whoever says:

    End Political Correctness: Vote for Trump! =P

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    No racism at all, just a little bit insulting…

    • Peter says:

      Replace Russian with Jew and check your point again. Unless you think some people are worth less than others by birth, then this is very insulting, not a little bit.

      • Pianofortissimo says:

        The racism cart has been drawn too often and too lightly lately. No, I still don’t think the text expresses racism. If taken seriously it is a very stupid and quite meaningless insult, but the text can be experienced in very different ways, thus my ironic comment. If the text referred in any way to me I don’t know if I would feel deeply insulted and would refrain to buy any book from that publishing house in the future and start legal procedures against it, or if I would just don’t bother and maybe laugh at it. Probably I would react in different ways in different days.

  • MWnyc says:

    I agree that Turgenev’s name and the title of the book should be on the poster somewhere, if only in small type (otherwise how does it do Penguin any good from a marketing standpoint?).

    But it seems to me that the original quote, as supplied by Trifonov, isn’t any better in terms of the reflection on Russians.

    Are the ellipses Trifonov includes in Turgenev’s original, or do they denote some missing words?

  • Mick says:

    It is of course anti-Russian, but in a very primitive and childish way. And no, it isn’t “racist”, because Russians are not a race. Neither are muslims, but try to merely suggest anywhere on these forums that maybe less than 100% of muslims are the best friends and benefactors of humanity, along with being innocent victims of the western “aggression”, and you’ll automatically get acused of “racism”. How fair is that?

    • M2N2K says:

      In many cases including that of Trifonov’s objections, it has little to do with fairness and much to do with imprecise choice of words because of poor language skills.

  • Alec Weil says:

    Penguin used an unattributed quotation insulting Russians with the sole purpose of selling books. Why shouldn’t a Russian, or anyone else for that matter, be offended?

  • Marina Pikoul Lloyd says:

    1. The quotation is badly translated, making it more insulting than what it is. The fictional character it belongs to, is a 19th century Russian student – nihilist, none of that has been mentioned. 2. Of all of the possible quotations from the Russian classics Penguin chooses the one that insults the whole nation. 3. Keeping in mind the climate of hysterical russophobia in the West it looks particularly tasteless and somewhat very cheap, like an attempt to brainwash the public. I think Penguin has definitely lost its Russian clients now, who, by the way, read really a lot. I hope Penguin will have enough human dignity to apologize, if it was a genuine mistake of bad judgement.

  • Milka says:

    The Russian muzhik is always annoyed when the truth cuts too close .
    Hysterical russophobia brings on a laugh … if it were not for the West
    the muzhiks would be still running around in animal skins .

  • Saxon Broken says:

    I am not sure why anyone would be insulted by the quote which, more-or-less, captures the original:

    “Aristocracy, liberalism, progress, principles.. Useless words! A Russian doesn’t need them!”

    It is clearly a quote from a the past since it starts with “Aristocracy”. Afterall, since the book was written, Russia and most of the world have decided it doesn’t need an aristocracy.

  • P. Larkin says:

    Perhaps it can be read as Russophobic, or anti-Russian, but it’s hardly Russians, since Russia comprises a wide array of races and ethnicities.

    The mistranslation and quotation without context, however, don’t speak well for Penguin’s editorial capacities. There are many other clearer passes in Turgenev. Why not quote one of them?