Book Review: Dead Souls

How about another book review?



Recently I finished reading the Russian classic Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol.

The story takes place in Russia during the mid eighteen hundreds, a time when the country was quickly making its way out of the Dark Ages and into the current era. However this was also a time when Russian society was at its most vain and hypocritical and the feudalistic style of government was still very much intact.

The novel follows Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov as he travels the Russian countryside. Essentially he is taking part in a con operation, attempting to buy up all the dead souls (or serfs) listed alive on the last census in order to mortgage them and make a profit. Throughout his episodic journey, Chichikov meets dozens of vivid, colorful characters that truly make up the heart of this wonderful story.

While Gogol can come across as excessively verbose and his sentences can sometimes take up an entire page, his storytelling is the work of brilliance. I often felt myself getting utterly lost in the story and marveling at the craftsmanship of the plot. The author often goes on long winded tangents, talks directly to the audience, and gives abrupt and extremely detailed backstories all of which would be absolutely unacceptable today, but I ended up really loving such eccentricities.

I also found myself loving the fact that Pavel Ivanovich is not the fautless hero that a lot of classic lit employs. He is sneaky and manipulative and selfish and also really real to the point where the author can make the point of “maybe we all know that there’s a little Chichikov in each of us,” or something to that effect.

My only severe complaint was that huge chunks of the manuscript were missing. And while I know this is nineteenth century classic literature and you get what you get, I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated. I know that Gogol could have provided a really impactful ending as well as write those holes in the story with the same raw, imperfect power that every other scene abounds in, and yet they were never completed.

If you couldn’t already tell, I would recommend this book. I am also quite surprised that it isn’t widely known. When people think of the Russians they think of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Crime and Punishment. Dead Souls is a work of sloppy brilliance that truly deserves a place among the greats.


~ by Jade Elizabeth on July 11, 2011.

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