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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Russian lit that's funny and very readable
This is a deservedly famous book by a great but troubled author. 'Dead Souls' was in fact just the first novel in a planned trilogy, as Gogol went mad and died, having destroyed most of part two, before completing his grand plan.
What's left is a bizarre, unique and often amusing story about a man travelling through provincial Tsarist Russia, buying dead souls (ie...
Published on 24 Jun. 2005 by Colin C

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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly incomplete
Gogol’s ‘DS’ is a classic of Russian literature, often cited as being the archetype for the great novels of the nineteenth century. The story was suggested to Gogol by Pushkin, and he originally intended to write it in three parts. Part one is complete, and makes up the bulk of the book. Part two was completed, but burned by Gogol a few days before his...
Published on 9 Feb. 2006 by Depressaholic


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41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Russian lit that's funny and very readable, 24 Jun. 2005
This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is a deservedly famous book by a great but troubled author. 'Dead Souls' was in fact just the first novel in a planned trilogy, as Gogol went mad and died, having destroyed most of part two, before completing his grand plan.
What's left is a bizarre, unique and often amusing story about a man travelling through provincial Tsarist Russia, buying dead souls (ie serfs who had died but were still listed as alive), as part of a large scale con. The characters he encounters on his way are very memorable and brilliantly drawn, and the style teeters on the edge of absurdity without ever quite toppling over. Also included are tantalising fragments of the beginning of book two, but this novel stands on its own, and has the most wonderful, magical ending.
'Dead Souls' is well worth a read as it is an accessible classic of Russian literature without the heavy, doom laden psychology of Dostoyevsky or the vast panorama and cast of characters employed by Tolstoy. You will never read anything else like this one.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tragically unfinished, 27 Jun. 2008
By 
Ian Shine (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Gogol toppled into madness and died before he could finish this novel, and only the first book of the three is fully completed. The second he purportedly completed, before destroying in a moment of religious fanaticism. Consequently there is only about a third of what he apparently composed here, and a tiny fraction of his proposed third part.
I've long been a fan of Russian literature, and have recently been plodding through Lermontov and Turgenev, who are made to seem pale beside Gogol, although they are undoubtedly brilliant authors. 'Dead Souls' is more comic than many a Russian novel, and sits more in line with Dostoevsky in his more existential themes (there are big parallels with Kafka thematically too). I won't cover the plot of the novel here (others have already done that), but simply recommend this as one of the essential works of Russian literature. Tragically, one can only imagine how phenomenal the completed version would have been.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A daring con man, and a stratagem that involves buying and mortgaging "dead souls" !, 21 Nov. 2006
This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
"Dead souls" (1842) is a book written by an important Russian author, Nikolai Gogol, that criticizes the Russian society of his time by means of a well-told satire.

The main character of "Dead souls" is Chichikov, a man that wants to be rich, and turns into a con man in order to achieve that objective. His stratagem is simple, yet strange: he will buy "dead souls" from landowners, and then mortage them in order to earn a lot of money. That was possible because in pre 1861 Russia, landowners owned serfs ("souls") that helped to farm the land, and that could be bought, sold or mortgaged whenever the owners felt the need to do so. The "dead souls" were serfs that had already died, but that were still listed as living in property registers.

Will Chichikov be able to buy "dead souls" at a low price and then mortgage them, turning into a rich landowner? Or will his proposal seem so outlandish to others that he won't be able to convince them that he is not joking? You will find answers to those questions in this book, along with beautiful (albeit extremely long) descriptions of the Russian scenery.

All in all, I can say that I liked this book, even though some parts of the manuscript are missing, and you go from the middle of the story to the last chapter in a rush, without knowing exactly what happened. If you know that will happen (I didn't), and still want to read "Dead souls", go ahead. At 3.5 stars, it is worth your time :)

Belen Alcat
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 31 Dec. 2009
By 
J. Harper - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
If you enjoy the haphazard chaos, tenuos plot-lines, general over-dramatisation and bizarre characters that make Russian literature so wonderful you will love this book. I think, along with Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, that it is the best book I have ever read. The fact that the book doesn't even end conclusively, coincident with Gogol's descent into madness, makes it an even more enjoyable read strangely. His inability to harness the story as it proceeds, progressively more out of control, is like nothing I have ever read previously.
Nonetheless for those who like tight plot-lines and tidy conclusions this may not appeal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bizarre and fascinating journey across Russia, 6 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is a tale like no other, told in a funny and witty manner. It tells of a Russian man by the name of Chichikov (referred to by Gogol as "our hero"), who travels from place to place in Russia on the hunt of 'dead souls', meaning peasants who are dead but still on the census list. Superficially it is about Chichikov wanting to sell these and make a killing through this con, but there is so much hidden beneath this.

This book is ultimately about the diversity of human character and nature. As Chichikov journeys from estate to estate meeting a wide array of different people, you will come across the overwhelmingly eccentric, to the righteous and honest, to the lawless and deceiving. I like the way that Gogol finds it necessary to explain the background of many of the characters in some detail, in order for us to understand them better. I also like the way that he goes off on a tangent whenever he sees fit, and philosophizes about human nature and its absurdities.

There is much to learn about Russian culture of the time when it was set (19th century?), but there is also a huge amount which can be related to the way that we are today across the world. I found 'Dead Souls' to be a subtle masterpiece, that although was not a gripping book that could not be put down, was a pleasure to read.

** Note: I read the David Magarshack 60s translation which may have differed slightly to this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ...but a vivid, lively depiction of 19th Century Russian life., 28 April 2011
By 
John P. Jones III (Albuquerque, NM, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Nikolai Gogol published "Dead Souls" in 1842. The novel is a rather sardonic portrait of the middle, and upper middle classes, primarily in the Russian countryside. The time period is a couple of decades earlier; a period in which Napoleon's invasion was very much a part of the collective memory. The military men, of a certain age, were referred to as "twelvers," that is, they had fought against Napoleon in 1812. It is a time of slavery, just like in America, but the Russian version was called serfdom, with the peasants tied to a particular estate under the most disadvantageous financial arrangements. Gogol had difficulties with the Russian censors who demanded changes, and removals to certain sections, include the "Tale of Captain Kopeikin, in Chapter 8. (Suitably topical, the story concerns the governmental bureaucratic indifference to a disabled combat war veteran.) When original published, this Tale was removed, but it has been restored in the current edition. For reasons that were not explained in this edition - perhaps no one knows - is that Gogol had the backing of Czar Nikoli I. Perhaps he thought such an authentic portrait of Russian society would serve as a catalyst for change.

Ponderous? That might be the most common word associated with many a Russian novel, even the very best: Tolstoy's War and Peace (Oxford World's Classics), Anna Karenina (Maude Translation) (Carefully Crafted Classics) and Solzhenitsyn's August 1914. Trans By Michael Glenny spring to mind, due to their "door-stopper" thousand page or so lengths. Gogol's work though is wonderfully accessible, at less than half the length, well-paced, witty, and chuckles are even possible. Much thought and care went into the translation, which seemed to match very idiomatic English to the original Russian. Although written more than 150 years ago, numerous themes seem surprisingly modern, pulled from today's headlines even. The review by "Vector," entitled "Modern Finance Capitalism Explained" captured the essence of one of the themes. The anti-hero, Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov is wandering the countryside, buying the legal rights to dead serfs (hence the book's title), with the sales pitch that it will relieve the current owner of the tax consequences on the serf (they are "property," after all!) until the next census. He will take all these deeds to the bank, and mortgage them. Ah, how "wealth" is created. Collateralized Mortgage Obligations, anyone? If there had been a derivatives market in the 1820's our hero might have "created" real wealth with this technique.

Gogol's work is divided into two volumes. The first volume, almost two-thirds of the work, is divided into 11 chapters. In the first chapter Chichikov arrives in town, does the round of the "big-wigs," essentially establishing contacts (sound like any career promoting websites that, er, ah, link?) The subsequent chapters seem to be devoted, one each, to an archetypical character as Chichikov visits, and is entertained to various degrees, the different estates in the area. Manilov seems to be one of the more normal ones, including his cultural pretenses with the French language. He has given his sons Greek names, confirming the concept that foreign provenance is better. There is the estate of Korobochka, the widow, who is ill-informed in estate management, and naturally suspicious of such a transaction. Nozdryov wants to drink, play cards, and quickly picks a fight. Sobakevich is an astute bargainer. I think the strongest chapter concerns the miser, Plyushkin. With the "dead souls" transactions completed with varying degrees of success, and with wildly different transaction cost, the next chapter is a wonderful satire on Russian small town officialdom as Chichikov attempts to obtain the legal deeds at the courthouse, run by Ivan Antonovich. The "backlash" sets in as both Nozdryov and Korobochka raise alarm bells, and then there is an incisive chapter on the nature of rumor-mongering. In the final chapter in this volume Gogol describes Chickikov's childhood and young adulthood; his constant efforts to please those in power so that he could make his fortune.

Although some have said that the second volume is not as strong, I found it of equal merit to the first; and topical as well. There is much to ponder in Gogol's characterizations, particular concerning the nature of work and wealth creation. The author describes the bucolic utopia that Andrei Ivanovich Tentetnikov attempted to create, and contrasts that with the actual very well-run estate of Konstantin Fyodorovich Kostanzholglo. Also, in this volume, there is much comic relief in Gogol's description of Koshkarev's estate, run like a "mini-state," with ponderous "committees" that must make decisions. Parts of the original manuscript have been lost, which leaves gaps in the narrative (so noted), particularly in this volume.

Gogol, along with Pushkin and Tolstoy, are the preeminent Russian writers of the 19th Century, who helped shape its literature today. This work is Gogol's best, by far, and is an essential one for anyone on a (hopefully voluntary) Russian immersion literature course. Definitely 5-stars.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on December 17, 2010)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The First Great Rusian Novel?, 12 Jun. 2009
This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Please note: this book is in 2 parts and the rating is for Part I only.

DS recounts the escapades of the rogue Chichikov. After failing to make his fortune in the civil service in St Petersburg he leaves town to con the unsophiticates who live out in the country. At this time in Russia landowners had to pay tax on each serf or soul registered to them in the previous census. Since censuses were only every ten year landowners ended up paying tax on souls who had escaped or even died between censuses. Chichikov's game was to offer to buy these dead souls and thereby save the landowner taxes paid. You would think this was a slam dunk proposition but as is natural to human nature people started asking questions. Just why would anyone want to buy dead souls? This is where the fun begins.

Gogol draws you into Chichikov's world that you end up rooting for the cheat and the psychological profiling of the main character reveals just why this novel was so influential. For without Gogol there would have been no Dostoyevsky as we know him.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Unique, 23 Feb. 2011
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This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is not a "fresh" review - I read it over a year ago.

Gogol - this book - is unique. There is no way to describe it, it is impossible to qualify, it is different to everything else: both funny and deep.... I will not try (and it is not because I read it long ago!).

The tragedy is that we only have the first part.
Last week I read "A romance with cocaine" by Ageyev and was reminded about Gogol's failure to write the 2nd part: "why on earth did he [Maslennikov] nonetheless resort to cocaine if he knew in advance that it would arise in him only mental tourment? - in a trembling voice Maslennikov compared his mental state with Gogol's, when the later was attempting to write the second part of his Dead Souls. Just as Gogol knew that the joyous powers of his early writing days were completely exhausted, but nonetheless returned daily to attempts at creativity, becoming certain every day that it was beyond him, and all the same (driven by the consciousness that meaning was lost without it) (...)"
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Frustratingly incomplete, 9 Feb. 2006
This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Gogol’s ‘DS’ is a classic of Russian literature, often cited as being the archetype for the great novels of the nineteenth century. The story was suggested to Gogol by Pushkin, and he originally intended to write it in three parts. Part one is complete, and makes up the bulk of the book. Part two was completed, but burned by Gogol a few days before his death, at the advice of his spiritual advisor. Only a few chapters exist. The third part is only fragmentary, consisting of bits of the final chapter. As a novel it is therefore far from complete.
The story concerns a scam by Chichikov to acquire social status by buying serfs that are listed as alive in the last census but have since died (the ‘Dead Souls’ of the title). He visits the local landowners in turn to buy the souls, allowing Gogol to introduce many different ‘Russian types’ and provide detailed descriptions of each. Initially Chichikov’s social standing increases, but as rumours begin to circulate he finds himself increasingly slipping from his exalted position. As the narrative comes to an end, he is surrounded by scandal.
I was disappointed by ‘DS’. It was easy to see its influence on later Russian literature, particularly with regards to the minute examination of Russian people and the obsession with class in society. These ideas dominate Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. However, ‘DS’ is a bit of an unrewarding slog. The descriptions of everybody and everything are long and detailed. I don’t mind this so much, but the curtailing of the narrative (by the destruction of the manuscript) really destroys any sense of story, so that ‘DS’ effectively becomes a series of descriptive essays about Russian people. There is just about enough surviving to get an idea of where Gogol wanted to take it, but I think that its chief interests now are in its historical importance and its tragic history, not as a novel in itself. Some books do not suffer from being incomplete. I don’t think that this is true of ‘DS’.
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4.0 out of 5 stars bizarre and interesting, 22 Sept. 2014
By 
StarryNight (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Dead Souls (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I love Russian literature and think that this story had great potential. Sadly Gogol suffered from mental illness and died never having completed the work. What is left is a slightly bizarre but interesting traipse across different landscapes, situations, and encounters as we follow Chichikov in his quest to purchase as many 'dead souls' as he can. I much prefer Dostoyevsky's Raskolnikov as I found it a bit difficult to empathise with Chichikov and his quest and didn't find him particularly appealing! I am glad I read this though and would recommend to others.
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