An easy way to journey into the world of Russian literature
Title: The Overcoat and Other Stories
Author: Nikolai Gogol
Translator: G & M Struve /Isabel F Hapgood (from Russian)
Genre: Fiction/Short Stories/Classic
First published: 1835-1842
Edition: Paperback, published by Dover in 1992
Four works by great 19th-century Russian author* – “The Nose,” a savage satire of Russia’s incompetent bureaucrats; “Old-Fashioned Farmers,” a pleasant depiction of an elderly couple living in rustic seclusion; “The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich,” one of Gogol’s most famous comic stories; and “The Overcoat,” widely considered a masterpiece of form.
This was my first foray into Russian* literature and I actually really enjoyed the experience. I am glad I started with this collection of four short stories. They were very readable and actually quite funny.
Gogol is a great storyteller. He tells his stories with wit and great detail. All these stories are about ‘random people’, clearly born out of observation of people like the ones he describes. The writing style is very conversational.
My favourite of the four stories was the title one. The Overcoat is a small story about a small life of a small man in a big world. It was both funny and tragic, and balanced the two very well.
The Nose was amusing. Gogol must have written it after consuming quite a bit of vodka. It was very bizarre, but it did make me smile quite a bit.
I enjoyed all four stories almost equally and I never felt bored or out of my depth. Sometimes I did feel like something was lost in translation, but overall I found these stories easy to read and understand. The fact that I probably did not pick up on some of the metaphors and satire does not bother me. After all, it was written almost two centuries ago in a different part of the world.
This certainly got me more interested in reading more from that part of the world. Overall, a perfect way to dip my toes into Russian literature.
6 out of 7 stars
* Just a note to say that Gogol was actually born in Ukraine and a couple of these stories are set there. He refers to it as Little Russia. I thought this was an interesting tidbit considering current affairs.