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Dead Souls Paperback – March 25, 1997

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Dead Souls + The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol + A Hero of Our Time (Penguin Classics)
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Editorial Reviews Review

A socially adept newcomer fluidly inserts himself into an unnamed Russian town, conquering first the drinkers, then the dignitaries. All find him amiable, estimable, agreeable. But what exactly is Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov up to?--something that will soon throw the town "into utter perplexity."

After more than a week of entertainment and "passing the time, as they say, very pleasantly," he gets down to business--heading off to call on some landowners. More pleasantries ensue before Chichikov reveals his bizarre plan. He'd like to buy the souls of peasants who have died since the last census. The first landowner looks carefully to see if he's mad, but spots no outward signs. In fact, the scheme is innovative but by no means bonkers. Even though Chichikov will be taxed on the supposed serfs, he will be able to count them as his property and gain the reputation of a gentleman owner. His first victim is happy to give up his souls for free--less tax burden for him. The second, however, knows Chichikov must be up to something, and the third has his servants rough him up. Nonetheless, he prospers.

Dead Souls is a feverish anatomy of Russian society (the book was first published in 1842) and human wiles. Its author tosses off thousands of sublime epigrams--including, "However stupid a fool's words may be, they are sometimes enough to confound an intelligent man," and is equally adept at yearning satire: "Where is he," Gogol interrupts the action, "who, in the native tongue of our Russian soul, could speak to us this all-powerful word: forward? who, knowing all the forces and qualities, and all the depths of our nature, could, by one magic gesture, point the Russian man towards a lofty life?" Flannery O'Connor, another writer of dark genius, declared Gogol "necessary along with the light." Though he was hardly the first to envision property as theft, his blend of comic, fantastic moralism is sui generis.--Kerry Fried


Praise for previous translations by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, winners of the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize

The Brothers Karamazov
“One finally gets the musical whole of Dostoevsky’s original.” –New York Times Book Review

“It may well be that Dostoevsky’s [world], with all its resourceful energies of life and language, is only now–and through the medium of [this] new translation–beginning to come home to the English-speaking reader.” –New York Review of Books

Crime and Punishment
“The best [translation] currently available…An especially faithful re-creation…with a coiled-spring kinetic energy… Don’t miss it.” –Washington Post Book World

“Reaches as close to Dostoevsky’s Russian as is possible in English…The original’s force and frightening immediacy is captured…The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation will become the standard version.” –Chicago Tribune


“The merit in this edition of Demons resides in the technical virtuosity of the translators…They capture the feverishly intense, personal explosions of activity and emotion that manifest themselves in Russian life.” –New York Times Book Review

“[Pevear and Volokhonsky] have managed to capture and differentiate the characters’ many voices…They come into their own when faced with Dostoevsky’s wonderfully quirky use of varied speech patterns…A capital job of restoration.” –Los Angeles Times

With an Introduction by Richard Pevear

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 25, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679776443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679776444
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #67,097 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Daniel M. Conley on May 14, 2007
Format: Paperback
Perhaps no other novel requires a more exacting translation than Nikolai Gogol's "Dead Souls." This translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky isn't bad, but it gives the book the Pevear/Volokhonsky treatment ... read their translations of The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina and Dead Souls back to back and you'd think they were written by the same novelist (well, if you're from Mars and had never heard of the books beforehand, that is.)

But as Vladimir Nabokov pointed out in his lectures of "Dead Souls", the greatest of all translations was by Bernard Gilbert Guerney. This version of Dead Souls was recently revised by Susanne Fusso for Yale University Press and I recommend it highly.

So why does translation matter? Because as Nabokov points out in Lectures on Russian Literature, "Dead Souls" is more poem than novel. The plot to "Dead Souls" is almost entirely beside the point ... it all pretty much goes in a circle (by the way, The Wire - The Complete Third Season" was modeled on this style.) Where this novel shines is in its haunting and evocative language. Nabokov points out several mind-blowing techniques that Gogol employs ... one is to take an object, create a metaphor about that object to explain it's importance, introduce another object in that metaphor, then compare the second object to a person ... this being a new character, introduced via a highly elegant segue.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By David Wilson on November 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
Dead Souls is the finest Russian novel I have read. Its characters are vividly detailed and intensely amusing, yet Gogol spends the novel tempting the reader to peer behind the slapstick humor of the story and see something far more significant and sinister. I've bought the book for several friends and am reading it for the second time myself. The Pevear-Volokhonsky translation is best - it contains helpful, well written notes and uses words like 'snookums' to bring home the endearing hilarity of the original.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By doc peterson VINE VOICE on December 8, 2003
Format: Paperback
Gogol is the master of imagery; in _Dead Souls_ he also shows his skills at hyperbole and satire, showing the vanity and ridiculousness of the Russian gentry in the middle of the 19th century.
The plot of the story revolves around a newcomer to an unnamed Russian village (immeadiately under susupicion being an "outsider"), who manages to charm his way into the local scene as a "harmless fellow." Yet soon his plans are revealed: he wishes to purchase the "souls" of dead serfs, the better to establish himself as a member of the landed gentry.
Gogol's masterpiece is almost Dickensian in its character development (and in the personalities of some of the characters), but on a deeper level comments on the superfulousness of appearance. It is a wonderful, witty and thoroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Trevor Kroger on November 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is the story of a scam artist who goes around the countryside buying up dead peasants or "Dead Souls" still on the tax registry with the plan to mortgage them on paper and make himself rich. A better example of the current mess that is Wall Street cannot be found anywhere else -- and it was written nearly 150 years ago!

On a deeper level, this is an absolutely timeless examination of human failings and the narcissism of the truly mediocre -- but never with any real venom. Gogol was a Christian afterall and it is with Christian love that he puts the screws to his fellow man, pointing out all the foibles as a means of enlightening people rather than out of spite, all with a comic brilliance that makes Dostoevsky's moralizing feel ponderous.

In fact, why are you still reading this review? Go out and get the bloody book already!
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29 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Luke on June 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
Translators of Gogol are often said to do more harm than justice to his works - Russia's greatest humorist often end up more pompous than funny, and despite the many number of translations of his masterpiece Dead Souls, very few non-native readers can get at that elusive hilarity of Nikolai Gogol. So it is with this translation of Pevear and Volokhonsky. Accurate to the lexicon and syntax of the original, it yet fails to register the gripping tone of Gogol's original, and the most cardinal of sins - in Pevear's and Volokhonsky's hands, Gogol is just *not* funny. It's a little like translating Dickens without getting any of his comic genius across. Once again, Pevear and Volokohonsky's works get lauded to the skies (uncritically) all over America. To be very truthful, their translations of Dostoevsky is superb, but their translation of anything else in Russian classics - from Tolstoy to Chekhov to Gogol - is mediocre at best.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Howard Schulman on December 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
Before you go any further, please note that only the first "volume" of this novel is worth reading, and you can stop reading at that point without missing a thing. Apparently, Gogol had intended to write three full volumes, but several times in the middle of writing the second volume he burned his manuscripts and by then his "genius" period had passed. P and V's edition only has sketches of the second volume. There are missing pages and missing chapters and unfinished sentences. Reading the second volume was a huge let down. The spark was entirely gone.

Having said that, the first volume was an absolute pleasure to read. Spend time savoring the delicious descriptive flourishes of Gogol as he follows his protagonist, Chichikov, on his journey through rural Russia buying the legal rights to Russian serfs who have passed away. You can only imagine what he's up to.

You can almost hear Gogol chucking as he spins one short tale after another. There is not much action in the 250 page first volume. All the genius and all the pure reading pleasure comes in Gogol's writing style, attitude, and wry humor. It just overwhelms you.

I had a hard time figuring out if Gogol was trying to comment on the larger issue of the state of Russian serfdom in 1840, when he wrote this novel. There are definitely short sections where he stands up for the dignity of these poor souls. He definitely sees the serfs as human beings and not mere chattel. Read the book carefully, but it seems like Gogol may have been trying to slip this theme under the radar screens of the censors who initially made Gogol revise certain portions of his book.

I have no idea how others have translated this text, but I gather that Gogol is one of the more difficult Russian authors to translate.
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