Dead Souls: A Novel Paperback – Mar 25 1997
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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
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Gogol describes how Chichikov ingratiates himself with the town's most powerful and respected officials. There are vivid descriptions of his various excursions to meet different landowners. The first meeting between Chichikov and landowner Manilov was absolutely hilarious in its description of how two absolutely disparate and removed people can feign such affection and friendliness, one out of greed, and the other simply from a naïve sense of propriety. As the story progresses, you tend to realize that the book doesn't really attempt to maintain a plot, but Gogol's criticism of the depicted Russian society is much more apparent and seems much sharper and more incisive. The story unfolds in such as a way so as to create the most opportunity for observation and comment on all the characters and situations rather than a story that drives itself towards a particular climax. Gogol's style of writing soon pulls you out of the main story- the reader first being an observer of the general happenings around the various characters is soon put into a different position from where he witnesses how Gogol's subtle humour and sharp criticism blend to create a clear picture of Russian society. Gogol's masterly creation of humor in this book is the essence of its brilliance.Read more ›
A story of a swindler and a social satire on life in early 19th century Russia, Dead Souls is also a comment on class and hypocricsy. Small town Russian officials and landowners strive to keep up appearances, valuing them more importantly than susbtance. Even Chichikov knows this, in fact as the main character (anti-hero) he thrives on this.
Gogol's story is comic on its surface but reading it you get a glimpse of life just twenty years before Alexander II freeded the serfs from their landowners. Dead Souls is both comedy and satire.
One note the Peaver-Volokhonsky translation while newer is a bit "choppy" and the translators make the most awkward word selections from Russian to English. It makes reading this version a bit off-putting at times (The Guerney translation was the favorite of many Russian expat's). Dead Souls is worth the read.
Most recent customer reviews
After failing as an actor and a poet, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-52) turned to writing short stories. Read morePublished on Sept. 21 2006 by Larry R. Heighton
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
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 morePublished on Jan. 12 2004 by Matthew Krichman
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... Read morePublished on Dec 8 2003 by doc peterson
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. Read morePublished on Jan. 12 2003
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 morePublished on June 11 2002 by James Huckabone
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 morePublished on Jan. 29 2002
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 morePublished on Jan. 18 2002 by Audrius Alkauskas