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Taras Bulba [Hardcover]

Nikolai Gogol , Robert D. Kaplan , Peter Constantine
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1 2003 Modern Library
The First New Translation in Forty Years

Set sometime between the mid-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century, Gogol’s epic tale recounts both a bloody Cossack revolt against the Poles (led by the bold Taras Bulba of Ukrainian folk mythology) and the trials of Taras Bulba’s two sons.

As Robert Kaplan writes in his Introduction, “[Taras Bulba] has a Kiplingesque gusto . . . that makes it a pleasure to read, but central to its theme is an unredemptive, darkly evil violence that is far beyond anything that Kipling ever touched on. We need more works like Taras Bulba to better understand the emotional wellsprings of the threat we face today in places like the Middle East and Central Asia.” And the critic John Cournos has noted, “A clue to all Russian realism may be found in a Russian critic’s observation about Gogol: ‘Seldom has nature created a man so romantic in bent, yet so masterly in portraying all that is unromantic in life.’ But this statement does not cover the whole ground, for it is easy to see in almost all of Gogol’s work his ‘free Cossack soul’ trying to break through the shell of sordid today like some ancient demon, essentially Dionysian. So that his works, true though they are to our life, are at once a reproach, a protest, and a challenge, ever calling for joy, ancient joy, that is no more with us. And they have all the joy and sadness of the Ukrainian songs he loved so much.”

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“One of the ten greatest books of all time.” —Ernest Hemingway

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“One of the ten greatest books of all time.” —Ernest Hemingway

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Customer Reviews

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic April 27 2003
By drongo
Gogol´¿s ´¿Taras Bulba´¿ is a good example of how a literary work can return to topicality with a vengeance; not so much news that stays news, as it were, as news that re-emerges as news. Accompanied by a brief introduction by professional geo-pessimist Robert D Kaplan (reprinted in the April 2003 Atlantic magazine), this novella confronts the reader with an account of a pre-modern mindset which is only too relevant to understanding current international events.
Set sometime in the 17th century, ´¿Taras Bulba´¿ describes the life of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, a people so accustomed to war that it has become the focus of their existence. Taras is a Cossack colonel, an old fighter who has survived into middle age and fathered two sons, now themselves on the verge of manhood. Far from slipping into complacent quiescence, however, he is as warlike as ever, and his sons´¿ return home from their seminary studies rouses him to return from semi-retirement to full-time work (i.e. raiding and pillaging). His overriding motive is to initiate his sons into full Cossack manhood. The military ´¿ or personal ´¿ consequences are irrelevant. What matters is that his sons must learn war.
After an interval at their stronghold, the Sech, an all-male enclave where the Cossacks practise the arts of peace (i.e. getting roaring drunk), Taras is able, with little difficulty, given the nature of his audience, to foment a campaign against the neighbouring (and therefore enemy) Poles. This situation exemplifies a clash-of-civilizations scenario wherein the Orthodox Cossacks are engaged in chronic conflict with the Catholic Poles on the one hand and the Muslim Turks and Tatars on the other.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not at all what I expected from Gogol Dec 21 2002
I like Gogol - I loved "Dead Souls' and "The Nose". But Taras Bulba totally caught me by surprise - which was (ironically) both pleasant and a disappointment. The story tells the tale of the Zaphorizhian Cossacks of the Ukriane and their struggle for independence from the domination of the Cathlic Poles. Returning from university, Taras Bulba's sons Ostap and Andrei partake in their first Cossak foray into the steppe. Enroute, Andrei falls in love with a Polish nobleman's daughter, and in the seige the follows, betrays his hetman (leader) and people to defend her. Tragedy ensues.
First, I was disappointed by the lack of depth he wrote for his characters - they never really sprung to life for me. Rather, they read more like charactures - carousing, drinking, rallying to the "true, Orthodox faith", pirating and plundering. This is as true of the minor characters as it is of Taras Bulba and his sons themselves - characters you would expect more "fleshing out" given the nature of the novel. I was also disappointed by the lack of scope - for a novella about the struggle for Ukrainian independence, the story itself was remarkably thin, dealing only with the events surrounding Tara's attack upon an unnamed Polish city, and his subsequent quest for revenge.
However, there is much to like about Taras Bulba. As one would expect from Gogol, the imagry is fabulous - vivid descriptions of Cossack life from their humble steppe homes, to their flamboyant dress, to the very way in which they drink themselves into a stupor. For this alone, the book is worth the time and effort to read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Story Aug. 2 2005
TARAS BULBA provides a vivid portrayal of the Cossacks and their way of life before the modern times than any other novel we can think of. Centered on the Zaphorizhian Cossacks of Eastern Ukraine, the story deals with a father who in a bid to initiate his sons into the Cossack military way of life abandons his semi-retirement and rouses the passions of his people to confront the Polish overlords who were subjugating them. Fast flowing, deep and expressive without wasting time on sublimities Gogol took us into a journey of Cossack wars that introduces us to their values, way of life, and colorful traditions. Unfortunately, Taras Bulba's warpath causes the loss of his favorite son who chose to rescue the Polish woman she loved, whose city was under siege by the troops his father was leading. TARAS BULBA is one of the many Russian stories such as KARAMAZOV BROTHERS, UNION MOUJIK, and PUTIN'S RUSSIA that provide a magnificent insight into the large Russian psyche.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great novel. Jan. 25 2004
As another reviewer noted, Gogol didn't write very much about the characters, just brief descriptions, yet I was amazed at how close I felt to Taras's son, when he met his father for the last time. The only criticism I have is that I expected more to occur with Tara's son and his lover. It seemed too important a problem to end so briefly, but perhaps my desire to continue this part of the story just shows how effective Gogol's writing is. Great book.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Story of "Us" Jan. 26 2008
This book is a telling historical account of the human duality; it shows the thin line that separates the victim and the victimizer in war. Robert Kaplan wrote that this book is important to "better understand the emotional wellsprings of the threat we face today in... the Middle East and Central Asia." He is absolutely correct. "We" are the Polish overlords.
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