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on 6 April 2017
The novel is amusing, and wildly picaresque, but it also castigated the post-Napoleonic Russia for its corruption at all levels of society. Google's structural parallel with Homer is unconvincing or conceived maliciously. The descriptions of the country nobility are hilarious, but Gogol's admiration for life in the country is Virgilian. The farcical elements are almost Dickensian.
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VINE VOICEon 28 August 2017
I thought that it would be a bit of a slog getting through Dead Souls,but it wasn't at all. It was quite the page turner and I sped through it in a few days. It is set in early 19th Century feudal Russia,before the emancipation of the serfs. It tells the tale of Chichikov, a middle class con man,who travels around the Russian countryside buying up the "dead souls" of peasants who were registered as alive at the last census but who have subsequently passed away. Chichikov plans to make money out of this scam by defrauding the government. He is charming,sociable and persuasive and he travels around meeting all kinds of odd and eccentric landowners. Gogol's novel is a satire of the middle class feudal society of his time and both his characterisation and perception of human nature are quite brilliant. The remarkable chapter where Chichikov goes from hero to outcast after his flirtation with a teenage girl is a superb dissection of the modus operandi of the female sex. I could identify with quite a few of the characters and I felt particular empathy with Tentetnikov, a landowner whose thwarted ambition and high mindedness had led to him being unable to function properly in his feudal landowning role. Chichikov always seems to manage to get away with his outrageous schemes by the skin of his teeth,fleeing before the brown stuff hits the fan. I would make a few criticisms of Dead Souls however. Firstly it is rather disjointed in structure and it can be difficult keeping up with events at times and secondly the ending of the book isn't very satisfactory. It finishes mid sentence and the final chapters are a bit anti climactic after the story appeared to be leading to a big ending. Nonetheless ,Dead Souls is an excellent book. A well written,playful romp through rural Russia written by an author with a profound understanding of human nature.
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on 17 August 2017
This is a surprisingly humorous read that follows Chichikov, a middle aged gentleman who tours through the Russian countryside buying the rights of deceased serfs from the landowners. He gives the impression that he is doing them an immense favour when really he is out for his gains, although it doesn't necessarily work out all that well for him. Each of the landowners that he speaks to are caricatures of the greed, corruption and paranoia that Gogol implies is deep seated in the Russian government. The second half of the book finds Chichikov moving to another part of the countryside and leaving his dead souls behind where he tries to help another landowner gain favour with a General so he can marry the General's daughter. Once again Chichikov moves from estate to estate meeting many odd and eccentric characters before getting himself into hot water again. Although the second part finishes mid sentence it doesn't feel too unfinished and this seems to add to Chichikov's character of being able to escape by the skin of his teeth. A rather readable and entertaining book.
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This always makes for a brilliant read, although if you are coming to this for the first time I should point out that as such it is incomplete. This should have been a ‘triple-decker’ but alas eventually all we have is a complete first part, and an incomplete second part, with no third one produced. There are reasons for this, one being that Gogol himself did destroy part of this, and he did tinker around with it as well.

To understand this, which is a blend of realism and the picaresque you do need to understand something about Russia and its laws. This is probably easier if I give you an idea of what happened. A landowner owned the people or souls on his land, these were the workers. Taxes would have to be paid on them, and the number you owned was an indicator of how wealthy and how much land you had. Mortgages and loans could also be obtained by the number of people it was supposed you had working for you. However there was a catch, the tax guide used was from the census, so until the next census you would have to pay taxes on people who had died.

Our anti-hero here has an idea, and he travels throughout Russia trying to buy up these dead souls. Ultimately although this book was never finished we know that he could take out a loan on these non-existent people to make his wealth. So we end up here with a novel that shows us how people lived and worked what the scenery and travelling was like, as well as the canniness of people. After all you may want to buy these dead souls cheaply, but some people are a bit wary, and when word gets out obviously prices will rise.

It is this that makes this quite funny, although it is funnier to a Russian than to us due to our different approaches to comedy, but also this is an interesting read and gives us a peep of Russia at the time.
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on 19 June 2017
somehow i find myself in a phase of obsessing over russian literature, and i thought this was really well written the detail was so exact at times i was wondering if i really did need know every scene so precisely, however i was really excited to read this because (and i may be wrong) I heard it finished mid-sentence, but in this translation it doesn't seem to? since that was what i thought this book was so famous for i was a little disappointed, though the ending was still fitting, so I'm not sure if this just isn't the best translation in this sense. being the only version of this book i've read i can't say anything in reccomending other translations, i just went for the cheapest one, so it may be my fault for not looking around! it is a good story though you need to stick with it, i did find myself dazing off sometimes as it is long and challenging, but it is good, i always love a scheming lead character!
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on 3 March 2017
Gogol stands at the pinnacle of Russian literature along with Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Dead Souls is a great book that can be read and reread to appreciate at many levels:

- as a funny story with a cast of caricatures including its lovable, pathetic hero
- as a portrait of Russian rural life
- as a commentary about human motivations and behavior
- as ironic comment about idealists who claim to have big answers for changing society
- as an exploration of the peasant mentality
- as a prelude to the chaos that would result from Communist revolution
… and like all of Gogol’s rich works, as a poem full of deep feeling about Russia and this world.

In Gogol’s writing there is art in every word, every description. Each side remark and observation adds to the descriptive power, the range of emotions – and to our ability to see through Gogol’s perceptive eyes.

For that, we need excellent translation. Unfortunately, the recent Pevear-Volokhonsky translation ruins the book with an overworked, oversmoothed, overintellectualized rendition that removes the startling power of the original.

You’re much better off reading the older D. J. Hogarth translation that’s available in Dover Thrift and other editions.

To compare, try this 5-minute test. Read the first page or two of Dead Souls in the Pevear translation on Amazon. You’ll see that it’s overworked, convoluted, and dull. Then read the same two pages in the preview of the Dover Thrift Edition. You’ll immediately see sharp, crisp, clear writing that captures the intensity and feeling of Gogol.

I’ve read both translations. The Hogarth translation will keep a treasured position on my shelf. I tossed the other one.
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on 31 December 2009
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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on 7 March 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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on 9 March 2011
You can of course buy a standard paperback of the text alone for less money,but personally I think that this wonderfully illustrated version offers far greater value.Never having read any other version I cannot comment on how this translation compares;I can only say that I found it a joy to read. But it's the addition of Chagall's illustrations that unquestionably lifts this edition into a league of it's own.With no fewer than 96 engravings,plus 12 vignettes there really is a huge amount here to delight in.
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VINE VOICEon 27 June 2008
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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