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Dead Souls (Vintage Classics) [Paperback]

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Book Description

25 Mar 1997 0679776443 978-0679776444 1st Vintage Classics Ed
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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Product details

  • Paperback: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 1st Vintage Classics Ed edition (25 Mar 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679776443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679776444
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.2 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,471,667 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Book Description

Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky are known for their highly-acclaimed translations of Dostoevsky (Demons, The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot have been published by Everyman). Their translation of The Brothers Karamazov won America's prestigious PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dead Souls 15 May 2007
Volume 1 of Dead Souls was published in Russia to immediate acclaim in 1842 when Gogol was 33 years old. Volume 2 remained incomplete on his death in 1852. Therefore there is no final resolution, and what exists of Volume 2 (while enjoyable) is fragmentary.

The basic "plot" is summarised in the Amazon synopsis. It consists of the adventures of Chichikov as he tries to buy up his "dead souls". The humour lies in the widely different characters he encounters and their responses to him. We do not find out Chichikov'a own history and what he is up to until the last chapter of Volume 1.

Gogol casts a cynical eye over Russian society. Not one of his characters comes out well and it is hard to like any of them. The humour is essentially satire and how funny you find the novel will depend on your taste. It has a historic interest - although presumably the widescale corruption and deceit portrayed is a caricature rather than a portrait.

Translation is a difficult art. I have no means of judging how well it has been done. However I missed the strong sense of the author's humanity that runs through Gogol's short stories.

The Everyman edition is the usual beautufully (for the price) produced hardback, bound in cloth with an attractive paper jacket and printed in Bembo. It contains a helpful short introduction, a bibliography, a chronology to help place the novel aginst world events, a Translators' Note, Volumes 1 and 2 of the novel and Notes on the text. Reading the short Translators' Note before the novels is a must if you want to understand the relevance of key English words used.

It would have helped to have had a summary of the different grades of nobility and public service in Imperial Russia as an understanding of relative social rank is important at points of the story.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Astonishing translators 7 Mar 2011
The Peaver/Volokhonsky translation is so good... It's like when you finally get a radio tuned just perfectly to a station and all the static falls away leaving the pure sound. So many other translations let you strain to hear the station through the static noise, but Peaver/Volokhonsky take it to a new level. I left my copy of this translation at work over the weekend and decided to read on with an older, though also respectable, translation I had at home. If I had never come across Peaver and Volokhonsky, I would have been happy with the other translation, but the comparison was striking. Fresh, clean, clear. Gogol's wit and playfulness, so dominant in the Russian original somehow manage to shine through even into the English. I can't recommend the Everyman's edition highly enough - stunning translation in a physically beautiful book, at a bargain price (2010 price - well under []).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chichikov's muzhiks 1 Feb 2012
"Dead Souls," by Gogol, is the greatest humourous novel in the Russian language! Probably,
the most popular book in Russia. Published in 1842, it has been entertaining a wide audience
ever since.

It is the story of a man's adventures in 'old' Russia and it has a deeper human appeal than
many other Russian books written subsequently. Bernard Gilbert Guerney's translation of 1942
was autographed for me many years ago. Coming from a master of Russian and English, like
Vladimir Nabokov, "an extraordinarily fine piece of work" (the translation) made me cherish
my copy of the book in English.

I have been meaning to review 'Dead Souls' translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky for some years. Their fine translations from many writers are truly excellent.
Theirs has certainly become the definitive edition!

Greatly recommended!

Dag Stomberg
St Andrews, Scotland
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  50 reviews
70 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead Souls: Translation is Everything 14 May 2007
By Daniel M. Conley - Published on
Perhaps no other novel requires a more exacting translation than Nikolai Gogol's "Dead Souls." This translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky isn't bad, but it gives the book the Pevear/Volokhonsky treatment ... read their translations of The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina and Dead Souls back to back and you'd think they were written by the same novelist (well, if you're from Mars and had never heard of the books beforehand, that is.)

But as Vladimir Nabokov pointed out in his lectures of "Dead Souls", the greatest of all translations was by Bernard Gilbert Guerney. This version of Dead Souls was recently revised by Susanne Fusso for Yale University Press and I recommend it highly.

So why does translation matter? Because as Nabokov points out in Lectures on Russian Literature, "Dead Souls" is more poem than novel. The plot to "Dead Souls" is almost entirely beside the point ... it all pretty much goes in a circle (by the way, The Wire - The Complete Third Season" was modeled on this style.) Where this novel shines is in its haunting and evocative language. Nabokov points out several mind-blowing techniques that Gogol employs ... one is to take an object, create a metaphor about that object to explain it's importance, introduce another object in that metaphor, then compare the second object to a person ... this being a new character, introduced via a highly elegant segue.

The Pevear/Volokhonsky version picks up most of this, but there are some dreadful "Dead Souls" adaptations out there (especially thisDead Souls version that truncates the action and misses the poetry altogether. Especially awful is this Dead Souls audiobook that correctly calls abridged, but both and iTunes label unabridged.

"Dead Souls" is a deceptively dense book. I recommend reading it along with Nabokov's lectures to get the full effect. Also, don't be deceived into reading the so-called sequel ... Gogol wished these disjointed new tales to be burned at his death and most critics agree, for good reason.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars sublime, witty and entertaining 9 Dec 2003
By doc peterson - Published on
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.
34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible! 30 Nov 1999
By David Wilson - Published on
Dead Souls is the finest Russian novel I have read. Its characters are vividly detailed and intensely amusing, yet Gogol spends the novel tempting the reader to peer behind the slapstick humor of the story and see something far more significant and sinister. I've bought the book for several friends and am reading it for the second time myself. The Pevear-Volokhonsky translation is best - it contains helpful, well written notes and uses words like 'snookums' to bring home the endearing hilarity of the original.
20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chichikov: Neither too fat nor too thin. 23 Sep 2004
By Lale Eskicioglu - Published on
First things first: Was your mouth watering every time you read they were having "cabbage soup"? Not that cabbage soup is something to lust over but because Gogol can make it so. (Why, Gogol can make a vegetarian crave for a "sucking pig".)

Now, Dead Souls: What an incredible satire on Russian character and tradition!

When I read Gogol's stories, The Madman's Diary, The Coat etc. I called him "a crazy person". I meant it as a compliment. I was referring to his creativity, his choice of odd subject matters and characters, his unique ability to reveal problems in bureaucracy with hilarious satire. I did not know that he eventually really went mad, in the more common sense that we use the term.

Dead Souls has two parts. First part is complete (and published in Gogol's time) and as good as a satiric novel can get. Second part is interrupted with many notes by the editor such as: "Part of the manuscript is missing here". What a shame!

According to an explanation on the cover of the book, the first part of Dead Souls had taken Gogol eight years to write. While writing the second part of the book, Gogol expands his vision and the goal of the book. He imagines a great book consisting of three parts in which he will get to tell the story of Russians from all walks of life.

It is interesting to note that Balzac, who was Gogol's contemporary (Balzac: 1799-1850, Gogol: 1809-1852), also envisioned a similar massive work. From Herbert J. Hunt's introduction to Balzac's "Lost Illusions":

"By about 1830 he had already conceived the idea of presenting the social and moral history of his own times in a complex series of novels and short stories: he also intended it to be an interpretation of life and society as he saw it, ..."

The only difference between Balzac's and Gogol's ambitious grand projects was that Gogol's was going to have one character (Chichikov) that would connect all the sub-stories and essentially consist of one book (of three volumes), whereas Balzac's was going to contain many independent pieces combined under the title "The Human Comedy" but could be read as individual books.

It killed them both. Balzac literally worked himself to death. Gogol, obsessed with his to-be masterpiece, `a palace of colossal dimensions', he imagined to solve Russia's problems and with his work losing its boundaries, he lost his mind, burnt most of what he had written after the publication of part one, and committed suicide.

The idea of Dead Souls was initially Pushkin's. According to what Gogol has written in his "Author's Confession", Alexander Pushkin had given his own subject to Gogol and had said that he would not have given it to anyone else. I am sure all literature lovers are grateful to Pushkin for this. Nobody else could have done justice to Chichikov and nobody else could have given us such a magnificent black humour book filled with hilarious dialogues and observations of the absurd.

I can open the book up at random, and read a hilarious scene or a dialogue, and what I read will be ridiculous but true. Gogol was a very intelligent observer. He only needed to exaggerate just slightly to get the comic effect. Take for instance the episode where Chichikov's three-horse carriage gets tangled up with a six-horse carriage. Can't you just visualize the racket that followed? Uncle Mityay and Uncle Minyay trying to untangle the harnesses with an entire village shouting and giving advise? Ridiculously funny and ridiculously real.

Towards the end of the book, Gogol leans towards solving Russia's problems by choosing villages over towns, a simple existence over an educated one, and religion over everything else. This doesn't work of course, but doesn't take away from the brilliance of the book. In the character Kostanjoglo, we see Gogol idolizing the perfect landowner and the solution to all of Russia's problems. Here, it is hard to say if Gogol is pulling the reader's leg or if he is being serious. We know that Gogol was not against serfdom, which, one can easily argue, was the root of many of Russia's problems, but if Gogol is seriously offering us Kostanjoglo's philosophies as solutions, then why does he make him as comic a character as anyone else? Does he want us to take Kostanjoglo seriously, a man who doesn't believe in any advancement, any education, any new technology, any progress?

After Kostanjoglo, comes the religious solution in the shape of Murazov. In these fragmented parts of the book, we clearly see the religious obsession that took hold over Gogol and eventually caused him to burn the rest of his manuscript. Had Gogol finished his book (or had he not burnt the manuscript), then maybe Dead Souls was not going to be as immortal (pun intended) as we accept it to be today. Gogol was capable of ruining this masterpiece with pro-serfdom, anti-progress and religious "solutions".

However, regardless of Gogol's declining sanity that is being reflected in the last bits and pieces of the book, Dead Souls remains a masterpiece and Gogol a genius. I think if he had continue to do what he does best, observe acutely and narrate hilariously, he might have indeed be capable of solving all of Russia's problems.

Don't let the fact that this is an incomplete book stop you from reading it. Just think of it as typical Gogol, because even before going mad and burning manuscripts, Gogol had the habit of leaving his stories in the middle. One of his short stories start with a warning: "This story is missing the end." And Gogol is not kidding. When you get to the end, you find out that the end is missing.
25 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't work for me... 4 Jun 2005
By Luke - Published on
Translators of Gogol are often said to do more harm than justice to his works - Russia's greatest humorist often end up more pompous than funny, and despite the many number of translations of his masterpiece Dead Souls, very few non-native readers can get at that elusive hilarity of Nikolai Gogol. So it is with this translation of Pevear and Volokhonsky. Accurate to the lexicon and syntax of the original, it yet fails to register the gripping tone of Gogol's original, and the most cardinal of sins - in Pevear's and Volokhonsky's hands, Gogol is just *not* funny. It's a little like translating Dickens without getting any of his comic genius across. Once again, Pevear and Volokohonsky's works get lauded to the skies (uncritically) all over America. To be very truthful, their translations of Dostoevsky is superb, but their translation of anything else in Russian classics - from Tolstoy to Chekhov to Gogol - is mediocre at best.
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