Dead Souls, by N. Gogol

Impressive vision of human types, of social behaviour, of corrupted and bureaucratic government, taken all the way to the absurd, a surrealistic world avant la lettre. Touching mix of author’s feelings towards Russia, in a sharp satire against a deeply rotten social system, alienated from its people and from true values, but an unconditional love for the country itself.

Having said that, I found the book very hard to read through. The style, deliberately sophisticated, to reflect the mannerisms of a vain and stupid social class, abunds in minute descriptions, ironical digressions and intermezzos, while the language is pretentious and over-elaborated. Again, this is part of Gogol’s design, but the text becomes incredibly heavy. The ironic story-teller style reminded me a bit of Fielding’s Tom Jones, although I found that book quite enjoyable and easy to read.

Another point on the negative side is that I find part two disconnected from part one in terms of concept. It feels like the author had chnaged his mind and his design; part one seems to be a character-story, following Chichikov and his social ascension and fall in the circle of the small town. Part two looks more like a journey-story, where Chichikov is but the door opener and what we follow are the various types of landowners in Russia. The suggested ending also seems to me inconsistent with the character of Chichikov – that he might eventually be converted to the “right” way of making his fortune under the influence of the model landowner, and as a result of long speeches held by the latter, seems to me far-fetched. Almost like a cheap movie.