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Taras Bulba (Modern Library) Hardcover – April 1, 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“One of the ten greatest books of all time.” —Ernest Hemingway

Language Notes

Text: Russian (translation)
Original Language: English
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library
  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679642552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679642558
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,294,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By drongo on April 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Gogol�s �Taras Bulba� is a good example of how a literary work can return to topicality with a vengeance; not so much news that stays news, as it were, as news that re-emerges as news. Accompanied by a brief introduction by professional geo-pessimist Robert D Kaplan (reprinted in the April 2003 Atlantic magazine), this novella confronts the reader with an account of a pre-modern mindset which is only too relevant to understanding current international events.
Set sometime in the 17th century, �Taras Bulba� describes the life of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, a people so accustomed to war that it has become the focus of their existence. Taras is a Cossack colonel, an old fighter who has survived into middle age and fathered two sons, now themselves on the verge of manhood. Far from slipping into complacent quiescence, however, he is as warlike as ever, and his sons� return home from their seminary studies rouses him to return from semi-retirement to full-time work (i.e. raiding and pillaging). His overriding motive is to initiate his sons into full Cossack manhood. The military � or personal � consequences are irrelevant. What matters is that his sons must learn war.
After an interval at their stronghold, the Sech, an all-male enclave where the Cossacks practise the arts of peace (i.e. getting roaring drunk), Taras is able, with little difficulty, given the nature of his audience, to foment a campaign against the neighbouring (and therefore enemy) Poles. This situation exemplifies a clash-of-civilizations scenario wherein the Orthodox Cossacks are engaged in chronic conflict with the Catholic Poles on the one hand and the Muslim Turks and Tatars on the other.
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Format: Hardcover
"Taras Bulba" is a magnificent story which portraits the life of the Ucrainian Cossacks who lived by the river Dnieper in the XVI Century. Taras Bulba is an old and hardened warrior who feels a little rusty by the lack of action. When his two sons return from school at Kiev, he eagerly takes them to the "setch", the camping and training island of the Cossacks. There they spend their time drinking and remembering old glories. It happens that the Cossacks are going through an uneasy truce with their Turkish hegemones and the Tartar horsemen. Taras Bulba, always the warmonger, harangues the Cossacks, engineers a change in leadership and leads them to attack the Catholic Poles (with religious arguments and some information that the Poles have shut down Orthodox churches and vexated priests). The Cossacks ride West, razing down everything they meet with extraordinary brutality, and they set siege on a walled city. It is there where the drama surfaces: Andrew, Taras's younger son, finds out the woman he loves is inside the city, and through her maid he learns that they are starving. He goes into deep agony, a moral dilemma, and finds himself in an impossible situation. I won't spoil the rest for you, but believe me this is one of the cruellest and bloodiest tales you'll ever read. It brings to life religious and racial hatred in all its crudity and absurdity. It reminds you of Tolstoi's story about the old Chechenian warrior, Hadji Murad (especially now that Shamil Basayev was killed). But even for all its brutality and sadness, it is masterful.
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Format: Hardcover
I love Gogol. I love him when he is funny and I love him when he is sad. After reading Taras Bulba, I also love his "adventure" story. The book is decidedly anti-Semitic in tone but I think this is mostly a reflection of the subject matter. I see it as a kind of a show the demon for what it is. Russian society and especially the Cossacks were not the friendliest place for Jewish people. As is obvious in Taras Bulba, they also had little love for the Poles, the Turks and the Tartars. At this crossroads of the world, hatred was abundant. The fact that Gogol pulled no punches with his descriptions illustrates his honesty. Unfortunately, the Cossack mentality of either being with me or against me seems to inform the modern world as well.

What is really interesting for me is the comparison of Taras Bulba with And Quiet Flows the Don and Tolstoy's Cossacks. All three are very different illustrations of Cossack life, from bias but honorable villains in Gogol to stories of heroes in Tolstoy to Sholokov's sad demise of a way of life. Any way you look at it, the Cossacks are an interesting subject matter. So, that all being said, I suggest you read this book. It is short and fast and works on multiple levels.
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Format: Paperback
I like Gogol - I loved "Dead Souls' and "The Nose". But Taras Bulba totally caught me by surprise - which was (ironically) both pleasant and a disappointment. The story tells the tale of the Zaphorizhian Cossacks of the Ukriane and their struggle for independence from the domination of the Cathlic Poles. Returning from university, Taras Bulba's sons Ostap and Andrei partake in their first Cossak foray into the steppe. Enroute, Andrei falls in love with a Polish nobleman's daughter, and in the seige the follows, betrays his hetman (leader) and people to defend her. Tragedy ensues.
First, I was disappointed by the lack of depth he wrote for his characters - they never really sprung to life for me. Rather, they read more like charactures - carousing, drinking, rallying to the "true, Orthodox faith", pirating and plundering. This is as true of the minor characters as it is of Taras Bulba and his sons themselves - characters you would expect more "fleshing out" given the nature of the novel. I was also disappointed by the lack of scope - for a novella about the struggle for Ukrainian independence, the story itself was remarkably thin, dealing only with the events surrounding Tara's attack upon an unnamed Polish city, and his subsequent quest for revenge.
However, there is much to like about Taras Bulba. As one would expect from Gogol, the imagry is fabulous - vivid descriptions of Cossack life from their humble steppe homes, to their flamboyant dress, to the very way in which they drink themselves into a stupor. For this alone, the book is worth the time and effort to read it.
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