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Dead Souls: A Novel [Paperback]

Nikolai Gogol , Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 25 1997 Vintage Classics
Since its publication in 1842, Dead Souls has been celebrated as a supremely realistic portrait of provincial Russian life and as a splendidly exaggerated tale; as a paean to the Russian spirit and as a remorseless satire of imperial Russian venality, vulgarity, and pomp. As Gogol's wily antihero, Chichikov, combs the back country wheeling and dealing for "dead souls"--deceased serfs who still represent money to anyone sharp enough to trade in them--we are introduced to a Dickensian cast of peasants, landowners, and conniving petty officials, few of whom can resist the seductive illogic of Chichikov's proposition. This lively, idiomatic English version by the award-winning translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky makes accessible the full extent of the novel's lyricism, sulphurous humor, and delight in human oddity and error.

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Dead Souls: A Novel + The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol + Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov
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A socially adept newcomer fluidly inserts himself into an unnamed Russian town, conquering first the drinkers, then the dignitaries. All find him amiable, estimable, agreeable. But what exactly is Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov up to?--something that will soon throw the town "into utter perplexity."

After more than a week of entertainment and "passing the time, as they say, very pleasantly," he gets down to business--heading off to call on some landowners. More pleasantries ensue before Chichikov reveals his bizarre plan. He'd like to buy the souls of peasants who have died since the last census. The first landowner looks carefully to see if he's mad, but spots no outward signs. In fact, the scheme is innovative but by no means bonkers. Even though Chichikov will be taxed on the supposed serfs, he will be able to count them as his property and gain the reputation of a gentleman owner. His first victim is happy to give up his souls for free--less tax burden for him. The second, however, knows Chichikov must be up to something, and the third has his servants rough him up. Nonetheless, he prospers.

Dead Souls is a feverish anatomy of Russian society (the book was first published in 1842) and human wiles. Its author tosses off thousands of sublime epigrams--including, "However stupid a fool's words may be, they are sometimes enough to confound an intelligent man," and is equally adept at yearning satire: "Where is he," Gogol interrupts the action, "who, in the native tongue of our Russian soul, could speak to us this all-powerful word: forward? who, knowing all the forces and qualities, and all the depths of our nature, could, by one magic gesture, point the Russian man towards a lofty life?" Flannery O'Connor, another writer of dark genius, declared Gogol "necessary along with the light." Though he was hardly the first to envision property as theft, his blend of comic, fantastic moralism is sui generis.--Kerry Fried


Praise for previous translations by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, winners of the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize

The Brothers Karamazov
“One finally gets the musical whole of Dostoevsky’s original.” –New York Times Book Review

“It may well be that Dostoevsky’s [world], with all its resourceful energies of life and language, is only now–and through the medium of [this] new translation–beginning to come home to the English-speaking reader.” –New York Review of Books

Crime and Punishment
“The best [translation] currently available…An especially faithful re-creation…with a coiled-spring kinetic energy… Don’t miss it.” –Washington Post Book World

“Reaches as close to Dostoevsky’s Russian as is possible in English…The original’s force and frightening immediacy is captured…The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation will become the standard version.” –Chicago Tribune


“The merit in this edition of Demons resides in the technical virtuosity of the translators…They capture the feverishly intense, personal explosions of activity and emotion that manifest themselves in Russian life.” –New York Times Book Review

“[Pevear and Volokhonsky] have managed to capture and differentiate the characters’ many voices…They come into their own when faced with Dostoevsky’s wonderfully quirky use of varied speech patterns…A capital job of restoration.” –Los Angeles Times

With an Introduction by Richard Pevear

From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless and hilarious Oct. 5 2002
By Bill M
Nobody captured black hearted greed better than N. Gogol in this book. The characters and the events resonate just as strongly in 21st century America. Remarkably fast read for a 19th century novel, and in light of the current corporate scandals, this is a good time to read this book. I read Dead Souls about 5 months ago and I still find myself going back to it in my mind and laughing. It would make a great movie.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Foundational Russian Novel Sept. 21 2006
After failing as an actor and a poet, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-52) turned to writing short stories. Only in 1834, however, after his dismal failure as professor of history at the Univ. of St. Petersburg, did he decide that his real career lay in fictional literature. He thereafter lived for a dozen years in Western Europe and visited Russia only occasionally.

Meanwhile he worked at his masterpiece Dead Souls (Mërtvye dushi, 1842). The novel met with acclaim, for the public readership saw it as an attack on the cruel institution of serfdom. Gogol hoped to carry the novel further --to take the second part a picture of all Russia, and to effect the country''s spiritual rebirth. Sadly, while working on this continuation, he began manifesting signs of religious obsession. In 1848, after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he felt confirmed in his belief that he was eternally damned! Convinced of the thorough sinfulness of his creative work, he destroyed the manuscripts for the second part of Dead Souls.

This great novel is a minutely detailed narrative bearing a humorous, satirical account of a huge hoax. Ironically, one cannot be sure whether Gogol saw his literary creation as basically comic or tragic. The chief character, Tchitchikov, navigates about the country buying up serfs who have died since the last census, but who must be carried on the tax lists until the next census survey. Mystified owners are willing to part with the useless tax burdens for virtually nothing. Tchitchikov''s motive is to raise money by mortgaging his post- mortem holdings as living property! At first, Tchitchikov appears shrewdly consistent in purpose.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moral Rot and Mordant Wit June 6 2004
Dead Souls is an interesting selection for several reasons. Above and beyond its commentary on the topical issues of Gogol's days (serfdom and the slow reforms thereof), sociopolitical satire, and uncommonly maladroit and unsympathetic hero, the book is an important exhibit in the evolution of the Russian language and the solidification of Russian literature.
Chichikov, a Russian customs civil servant, rides his troika into N., an unnamed provincial anytown. His intentions unknown, Chichikov effortlessly wins the hearts of the seemingly superficial officials and landowners, whose hospitality and good cheer seem boundless. Chichikov, though, is courting the kind citizens with a purpose. Soon, he is traveling from house to manor, offering to buy deeds to dead peasants for reasons unknown.
With Chichikov's travels through the Russian countryside, Gogol unleashes his comic insight into Russian society, especially (and unlike many of his shorter stories), rural Russia. Soon, the good hosts are exposed as guileful misers and the munificent oficials as venal and depraved. The sharpest comic exchanges come in Chichikov's haggles with the more incredulous targets - notably, a woman who preposterously suspects a hidden value in dead souls, and Sobakevich - a man bearing more than physical resemblance to a bear.
At the same time, Dead Souls paints for us an unorthodox hero in Chichikov - a morally unscupulous bureaucrat whose only ambition is financial aggrandizement. Relegated to mediocrity since childhood, Chichikov pursues the crass goals set out by his dysfunctional father. Yet Chichikov is not a man, he is a state of mind - one that Gogol saw afflicting much of his beloved Russia. Through Chichikov, and with great humor, Gogol illuminates the decay of human relations and decency in a country and people he loved so dearly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sublime, witty and entertaining Dec 8 2003
Gogol is the master of imagery; in _Dead Souls_ he also shows his skills at hyperbole and satire, showing the vanity and ridiculousness of the Russian gentry in the middle of the 19th century.
The plot of the story revolves around a newcomer to an unnamed Russian village (immeadiately under susupicion being an "outsider"), who manages to charm his way into the local scene as a "harmless fellow." Yet soon his plans are revealed: he wishes to purchase the "souls" of dead serfs, the better to establish himself as a member of the landed gentry.
Gogol's masterpiece is almost Dickensian in its character development (and in the personalities of some of the characters), but on a deeper level comments on the superfulousness of appearance. It is a wonderful, witty and thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars funny book Jan. 12 2003
By A Customer
this is a very funny story of philistinism, of dreadfully banal people trying to pull of a perfectly dreadful crime. gogol rivals dickens for creating hilarious characters. i especially loved nozdryov, the russian 'everyman'. and gogol's portrayal of russian provincial society is delightful. too bad gogol never finished the book.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars An Unfinished Masterpiece?
unfinished -yes! masterpiece-no!
i didn't like this book. you can read the other reviews to get the flavor of the plot. Read more
Published on May 24 2004 by T. Scherff
3.0 out of 5 stars Interest commentary on Russian society
An ambitious man in 19th century rural Russia attempts to increase his wealth and societal rank by purchasing dead peasants who, due to lengthy delays between census-takings, are... Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2004 by Matthew Krichman
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead Souls
Dead souls is a book which starts of amusing you and leads you to believe that it must have an intricate plot and Chichikov, the protagonist, leaves you wondering about his... Read more
Published on Oct. 22 2002 by "anc12"
5.0 out of 5 stars The first Russian Novel
Dead Souls is Gogol's first and only full length novel, ironically written in Rome rather than the Russian countryside it was set in. Read more
Published on July 29 2002 by Virgil
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
This is my grandpa's Bible. He is Russian and claims that only other like-minded Russians could ever compute the pitter patter of Mother Russia's beating drum that resonates... Read more
Published on June 11 2002 by James Huckabone
5.0 out of 5 stars The best over-200 page novel in the history of literature
Nikolai Gogol has a very creative mind as well as a unique style of writing. While reading Dead Souls, one is more likely to view the world from Gogol's point of view than his own. Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars Russia's best
I need to say that I did't read English translation - I was reading the original. But those of you who do not know Russian, should read the translation - it is funny, dark and... Read more
Published on Jan. 18 2002 by Audrius Alkauskas
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, witty and entertaining
This is an amazingly entertaining novel-- and a classic of world literature.
Chichikov, a likable anti-hero, is buying up the deads to dead serfs so that he can use them as... Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2002 by Andrew Suber
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