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The Cossacks (Modern Library Classics) Paperback – February 14, 2006

4.4 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


When you think of Tolstoy, you most likely think of his epic novels, like Anna Karenina or War and Peace. You probably don't think of his shorter pieces like The Cossacks, a shorter novella that is considered to be the author's autobiography. The book centers around an unhappy Muscovite nobleman named Dmitri Olenin who joins the army in search of adventure and purpose in his life. He winds up in the Caucasus and is intrigued by the geography and the simple people who live there. Along the way, he discovers himself and falls in love for the first time, and in turn discovers the pain love can bring. We meet a cast of characters that includes the manly Cossack soldier Lukashka, the beautiful Cossack girl Maryanka, and the larger-than-life grandfather figure, Uncle Yeroshka, each of who play an important role in the life education of Olenin. Since this has always been one of my favorite books, I was curious to see how it translated into the audiobook format. The voice work is done by Jonathan Oliver, an English actor who has over a decade of experience reading audiobooks for the blind. At first, I was a little thrown by his English accent, as I know many Russians personally, and I always lent a Russian accent to The Cossacks characters in my mind. But as the story progressed, I got used to Oliver's accent and it became very natural sounding, as he took on the life of the characters. He also did a wonderful job of changing out his vocal style as each different character spoke, making it easy to tell who was speaking as the conversations took place. I especially liked his portrayal of Uncle Yeroshka, the colorful old man of the Cossack village who takes Olenin under his wing. Oliver's voice bellows and rings out with intensity, bringing the character to life in incredible fashion. Oliver is obviously very familiar with the story as well as Tolstoy in general, and he adds touches here and there to make the story even more special. For example, he reads the descriptive sections with the same enthusiasm as the speaking roles, painting a perfect picture of the Cossack village and the activities of its inhabitants as they go about daily life. He also sings their songs with a convincing air, staying in character the whole time. As far as classic literature goes, this one is an easy listen. It is not too long, and the story moves quickly, filled with adventure and a touch of innocent romance. Plus, it is a great introduction to Tolstoy without getting lost in the epic length of some of his other works. Highly recommended.
 - MISH MASH, http://mishmashmusic.blogspot.com/ --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From the Inside Flap

"Tolstoy's lavish and always graphic use of detail," wrote John Bayley, "together of course with its romance and exotic setting . . . has made "The Cossacks the most popular of all his works." This vibrant new translation of Tolstoy's 1862 novel, by PEN Translation Award winner Peter Constantine, is the author's semiautobiographical depiction of young Olenin, a wealthy, disaffected Muscovite, who joins the Russian army and travels to the untamed frontier of the Caucasus in search of a more authentic life. Quartered with his regiment in a Cossack village, Olenin revels in the glories of nature and the rough strength of the Cossacks and Chechens. Smitten by his unrequited love for a local girl, Maryanka, Olenin has a profound but ultimately short-lived spiritual awakening. Try as he might to assimilate, he remains an awkward outsider and his long search for a more enlightened and purposeful existence comes to naught.
With the philosophical insight that would characterize Tolstoy's later masterpieces, this long overdue major new translation is a revelation.

"From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Classics
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (February 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812975049
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812975048
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,351,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Matthew P. Arsenault on November 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Tolstoy is one of the most famous names in Russian literature. Sadly, the sheer size of most of his celebrated works, i.e. War and Peace, tend to make many readers anxious. However, readers fail to realize that Tolstoy has quite a phenomenal collection of short fiction, such as this 178-page novella.
Tolstoy explores the dissatisfaction a young Russian aristocrat holds towards the emptiness of high-society, and his subsequent journey in search of meaning. The aristocrat finds himself as a young Russian army officer, serving at a remote Cossack outpost in the Caucasus. Here he finds that his wealth and breeding do not garner him respect. Instead he is looked upon as an outsider, and an unwelcome one at that.
Nevertheless, the aristocrat finds himself in love with a beautiful Cossack girl, who is promised to a Cossack warrior. Tolstoy discusses the emotions that rise between these three parties regarding love, class, and sacrifice.
Indeed, The Cossacks is great first exposure to Leo Tolstoy and his descriptive writing style is sure to lead the reader to explore more of his works.
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Format: Hardcover
In the middle of _The Cossacks_, Dmitri Olenin, a young Russian cadet reflects joyfully, "Happiness is to live for others. How clear it is!," while being mercilessly bitten by mosquitos during a deer hunt. Despite the fact that his "whole body [is] consumed by a consuming itch," Olenin revels in the beauties of bountiful nature. It is almost as if he gives himself up to the mosquitos, whom he imagines are yelling out to each other, "Over here, boys! Here's someone we can devour!" Tolstoy develops the scene with such skill. We see Olenin's joy quickly turn into confusion and mortal terror.

Leo Tolstoy's _The Cossacks_ (begun in 1852 and published in 1862) is about a young aristocrat's quest for happiness and his uncertainty about what will make him happy--whether a life given up to the senses or a life devoted to others. The novel begins with a late night discussion in a Moscow alehouse about Olenin's relationship with a wealthy Moscow woman whom he is about to abandon. One of his friends responds, "You have not yet loved, and you don't know what love is!" Dmitri bids his friends adieu and sets out by carriage for a military assignment in the faraway Caucasus to start life anew and to find out what love means (ironically, while serving as a military cadet in a war).

The novel contrasts Dmitri Olenin with Lukashka the Snatcher, a young fearless Cossack soldier admired by everyone in his village. While Dmitri's life lacks purpose and direction, Lukashka is driven to become an ideal Cossack warrior. Lukashka is a carouser who is a brave fighter. Dmitri envies Lukashka's life and, in particular, the defined Cossack traditions to which Lukashka devotes himself.
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Format: Paperback
Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is one of the world's greatest novelist producing such classics as "War and Peace"; "Anna Karenina" and "Resurrection." He was also a master of the novella and short story. Penguin has collected three of these shorter works in a handsomely published new paperback.
The stories are:
The Cossacks: In this semi-autobiographical story a young Moscow nobleman joins the army. He is posted to the distant Caucasus where he becomes friends with people living in a Cossack village. He is infatuated with a Cossack beauty and is involved in a romantic triangle. Olenin meets and befriends an old Cossack who imparts wisdom and the customs of his people to Olenin. The story is filled with information on the customs and lifestyles of the Cossacks. It also includes beautiful descriptions of nature and ponderings on life by Olenin. The Cossacks of Tsarist Russia were a strong,proud and fierce people who loved to drink, love and fight across the vast stretches of the steppes. When Olenin leaves the Cossacks he has grown in maturity.
Sevastopol Sketches is a story concerning the siege of that Crimean City by the French, English and Turks during the Crimean War of the 1850s. Tolstoy was himself present during the siege. The Russians were defeated. We experience in these pages the experience of bombardment, instant death from shells and see the horrific condition of the wounded. The lives and deaths of two brothers are described. This story provides excitement and shows Tolstoy's ability to draw characters and scenes with superb skill. There are three sketches which show us what it is like to be in a beseiged city during war. Tolstoy became a pacificist. This short work shows us the horror of warfare.
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Format: Hardcover
Here's a book that not many people know about which should be read by all. It was really just what I needed to read, having just dropped out of university myself. Also, does anyone else think that this book must have greatly influenced Hemingway? It sounds just like him, and he says in A Moveable Feast that he was reading lots of Russian stuff at the start of his career. I realize it might just be that the translator liked Hemingway, but even so it's amazing how much it ends up reading like one of his novels and is so unlike the rest of Tolstoy.
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