Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mount TBR #19

I read this book for the Mount TBR reading challenge 2014.

The Squabble – Nikolai Gogol, tr. Hugh Alpin for Hesperus Press,

Gogol is known for the novel Dead Souls, the Petersburg cycle (which includes his best-known story, The Overcoat) and the Mirgorod cycle (four stories, of which three are included in this volume). More fun to read than Dostoyevsky, Gogol’s tone is happy and loud, that’s for sure. Gogol describes an intense friendship between two recluses deep in the Ukrainian countryside and how a squabble derails their companionship. The story’s momentum is smooth though the tone is breathless. Then it just stops.

The characters Gogol sets up in the story are all that they can be. They can’t help it when or where they were born. How they were raised. How they learned to get along with people with no good intentions and think only of themselves. 
Ivan I. takes it into his head that he wants Ivan N’s gun. He offers a pig and two sacks of oats in trade for the weapon. Ivan N doesn’t take to the proposal, not only because it confers personal protection:

    “What’s that! Two sacks of oats and a pig for the gun?”
    “Well, isn’t that enough?”
    “For the gun?”
    “Of course it’s for the gun.”
    “Two sacks for the gun?”
    “Not two empty sacks, but sacks of oats; and have you forgotten the pig?”
    “You can go and kiss your pig, or if you prefer it, then the Devil!”
    “Oh, you’re so touchy! You’ll see in the other world you’ll have your tongue studded with hot needles for such blasphemous words. After a conversation with you, people need to wash their hands and face, and fumigate themselves.”
    “Allow me, Ivan Ivanovitch. A gun is a noble thing, the most curious amusement, and, what’s more, a nice decoration in the room…”
    “You, Ivan Nikiforovich, are fussing over your gun like a bear with a sore head,” said Ivan Ivanovich in annoyance, because he was truly beginning to get angry now.
    “And you, Ivan Ivanovich, are a real goose.”

This Hesperus volume contains two other stories from the Mirgorod series: “Olde-Worlde Landowners” and “The Carriage.” The first is Gogol’s parody of the Philemon and Baucis myth and his parody of the kind of sickly-sweet Russian writing that romanticizes nature. The Carriage is a slight and funny examination an examination of how conceit, ambition, and alcohol prove dangerous obstacles to getting ahead. Gogol’s characters always want more stuff and they end up getting royally screwed for their greed.

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