Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol, Part I

I’m starting to think that Dead Souls is the first Russian novel that I’ve read all the way through. I am approaching the half way point, and I’m still enjoying myself. I picked up Dead Souls for a couple of reasons. First, since I bailed out on Nanowrimo, I felt like I ought to do something literary this month. Second, I’ve heard parts of the story, and I want to know the rest of it.

I have to say, though, I really like the way Gogol writes. He’s sort of a cross between Jonathan Swift and Henry Fielding, I think. On the one hand, he’s pretty misanthropic. None of the characters comes off very well, and they all seem to have serious flaws. You wouldn’t want to deal with any of them. But on the other hand, the descriptions and situations in this book are pretty funny. In that way, Gogol’s a bit like Fielding–but the comedy isn’t as broad. Gogol has a lot of really funny turns of phrase, especially in the character descriptions. I didn’t expect to laugh so much at something that was written more than 150 years ago by a Russian. Not that I have anything agaisnt Russians, it’s just that they tend to depress the hell out of me.

My only concern about the book is the translation. The translators, don’t get me wrong, have done a really good job. I understand what’s going on, but I can see some use of slang that I think is modern. I don’t know any Russian, and I don’t know enough about Russian culture to know what the slang would have sounded like at the time. What I’m worried about is if the translator’s voice is drowning out Gogol. Which is unfortunate, because I do like how the man writes. I have read other translated works were I don’t pick up on the fact that it’s translated, like The Shadow of the Wind. I didn’t “hear” any narrators I shouldn’t have. That might be kind of difficult to understand. With the translation of Dead Souls that I’m reading, there are times when I don’t think it’s Gogol that’s writing. But with Shadow, it sounded like Ruiz-Zafón all the way through. And, given that this book was published 1842, some of the translation makes the characters sound anachronistic–there are modern turns of phrase that stick out in a bad way.

I am trying to finish a chapter a day. So I should be done with this book by mid-week next week. More Dead Souls later, then.