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5.0 out of 5 stars Storytelling At Its Best,
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Gogol has been called the first Russian realist author - that's debatable. He seems to have spent more time abroad than he did in either Ukraine or Russia and had a wild imagination; the result was a world all his own. Gogol's heroes/victims are office clerks, struggling artists and the characters with which he populates his stage version of Ukraine. He might be a realist to some, but the way he shows us the lives of these struggling clerks in St. Petersburg and the bucolic existence of the Little Russian peasants is anything but "realism". Gogol's ability to blend the everyday world with the surreal and phantasmagoric was truly something new and not just for Russian literature. Gogol set the table for authors such as Kafka, Bulgakov, Nabokov and others.
Finally, translation is an art, not a science, and the husband and wife team of Pevear and Volokhonsky have produced an outstanding volume. The Ukrainian stories flow like the Dnieper, beautiful and timeless; the Petersburg stories echo with the insanity and absurdity of Tsarist bureaucracy. Read these stories, some will make you laugh, some will give you a shiver up your spine, all will give you pause to think about human nature, at any rate you're guaranteed to be entertained!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant,
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious!!!,
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer Genius (and a good translation),
The Overcoat, Diary of a Madman, & the Nose are some examples of Gogol's short story brilliance. These stories are realistic yet surreal, imaginative and impressive. Gogol shows you the roots of what Russian writers continued to excel at later with works like Metamorphosis (Kafka). He calls his stories tales (there are the Ukrainian Tales and the Petersburg Tales), and they most definitely are tales. They are the kind of stories you can tell around the campfire -- they are that unnerving and exhilarating. Yet they are social commentaries as well. These stories work on many levels because they are detailed, feature fantastic characters, and delve into fantasy. All the while you find unexpected twists and occurrences. It's sheer genius.
This book is a fabulous introduction to both Russian literature and the works of this unique genius.
5.0 out of 5 stars great translations,
4.0 out of 5 stars Alarming and Exhilarating,
Gogol makes savage fun of the stilted bureaucracy, the obsession with rank, titles and medals, the pretensions of society in general. He is familiar with the irrational and fantastic that creeps into the fissures of our existence. The misery of the downtrodden clerk is real; but, strangely, the tales do not have the depressing effect usually associated with social criticism. As Nabokov shows us in his analysis of "The Overcoat", Gogol's prose opens trapdoors under our feet with absurd suddenness, and we tumble in. It is a dizzying, unnerving, and at the same time exhilarating experience. (I think, incidentally, that Nabokov took a slice from "Nevsky Prospect" when he wrote "That in Aleppo once...". But then - who hasn't taken a slice out of Gogol?)
The selection and translation of the tales in this edition is, in my opinion, excellent and thoroughly enjoyable.
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Gogol,
By A Customer
There is 'How Ivan Ivanovich quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich', which is one of the most hilarious stories I've ever read. 'Diary of a Madman' and 'Ivan Fiodorovich Shponka and His Aunt' are sure to delight the fans of 'The Overcoat'. Overall, these are the unique gems of comedy, horror, satire, fastasy and more. This compact collection would be the perfect introduction to those who want to get a solid feel for the writings of this inimitable and versatile artist, but may not be ready to commit themselves fully just yet.
5.0 out of 5 stars A great Russian in good English,
As to the stories themselves, the best of them (the Petersburg stories, that is) must rank among the greatest of all works of short fiction. "Diary of a Madman" is one of the most convincing and frightening of all fictional representations of madness, made all the more so by its abundance of comic detail. "The Nose" is a surreal satire which must be read to be believed, and "The Overcoat", with its combination of linguistic dexterity, close character study, and a narrative that veers between the moralistic and the ambiguous, is a concoction unique in literature. I also wish to put in a good word for "Nevsky Prospect", the two-headed tale of the differing fates of a self-satisfied philistine and a romantic dreamer, both of whom succumb to forces of deception.
Realist, anti-realist, surrealist--take you pick, Gogol is any and all of these, and one strand doesn't invalidate any of the others. You can take the Petersburg stories as a swipe at Russian bureaucratic tyranny; or as a study of malign spiritual and psychic forces; or as wacky entertainment. As with any genius, his works suggest multiple points of departure.
5.0 out of 5 stars A splendid translation of a splendid author,
Critics still disagree to some extent over the quality of Gogol's Ukrainian tales and the extent to which they reflect the artistic vision found in his later, most famous pieces. I would acknowledge that there aren't any absolute masterpieces among these stories, but the world he creates through the lot of them, with the constant presence of the supernatural (probably best seen in "The Night Before Christmas" and "Viy") and a charming provincial sense of humor (at its height in "The Story of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich"), is really quite memorable. Also, it's very interesting to see how the simple country folk of the Ukrainian tales evolve into the often equally naive clerks found in the Petersburg tales, and how the demons and ghosts of Gogol's earlier pieces anticipate the haunted portraits and phantoms of departed eternal titular councillors that would later win Gogol lasting fame.
It is, however, the Petersburg tales that are really the centerpiece of the collection. Though it would be a mistake (one that has tempted many a socially-minded critic over the years) to portray these stories as representing a profound sympathy on Gogol's part for plight of the little man, Gogol uses humble copying clerks, struggling artists, and their ilk to paint a wondrously alive picture of the bustling imperial capital. In each of the stories (among which I should mention "Nevsky Prospect" and "The Portrait," neither of which appears in anthologies nearly as often as it should), Gogol infuses the experiences of a seemingly undistinguished individual with something extraordinary, sometimes using the supernatural and other times exploring the protagonist's dreams or his madness. Though Gogol's contemporaries (like Pushkin and Lermontov) were producing a number of excellent works at the same time, those works tended to focus more heavily on the privileged few, and, innovative though they were in various ways, they were written somewhat more in the spirit of the works of foreign authors like Byron and Scott. In Gogol's Petersburg Tales we see Russian masterpieces written for almost the first time in a relatively non-Western European style about the masses who were not lucky enough to belong to the high nobility, and these works (though Gogol surely had no intention of things turning out this way) would go far to influence the social realism developed by later Russian authors.
Gogol's prose is known among Russians for its beautiful lyricism, which sometimes fails to come through in translation. This translation is (unsurprisingly, given how widely praised Pevear and Volokhonsky are) an exception to that; each of the four stories in the volume that I had previously read in other translations improved substantially under the influence of Pevear and Volokhonsky, and throughout the volume I often marvelled at the elegance of the narrative. The one complaint I might have about the collection is the omission of the historical romance Taras Bulba, which is probably the best known of Gogol's Ukrainian tales and is substantively different from any other story he wrote. However, since (at about 120 pages) it might better be described as a novella that a short story, and since the volume is already slightly Ukraine-heavy, it's understandable that Tara Bulba didn't make it in. Other than that issue, I can't think of a single weakness in the collection, and I highly recommend it to anyone with any interest in Russian literature or in the development of the short story as an art form.
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The Collected Tales by Nikolai Gogol (Hardcover - Oct 7 2008)
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