The inside cover of this book touts: 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.
Doesn't that make you want to curl up with a hot cup of tea and get reading? I mean, who can resist sulphurous humor? Heck, my spell check doesn't even like it.
So, as with our other tromps into the land of Russian lit, I can say that I've read Tolstoy, Chekov and now Gogol. I can't say that I've finished many (any) of their greatest works, but I've lived for a moment in their worlds.
There are far better summaries of historical literature than I could ever muster, but the gist of the story is that the hero Chichikov (Chick) has a scheme to make money by purchasing the ownership rights to the slaves of land owners. However, he only wants the ones that have died. It's a strange, complicated plan where he saves the landowners from paying taxes on dead people and he ends up looking like a very wealthy man because he owns all these people, that he can mortgage to buy an estate. Sounds like it should work - not quite.
In making all the transactions we get a commentary on all the different types of people in Russia. We meet the trusting people, the suspicious people, the vain, stupid people, the drunk nationalists and on an on and on.
We found it entertaining and challenging and even a little repetitive at times. The book is unfinished and ends mid-sentence. That can be really frustrating for a reader who needs