Title: Taras Bulba
Author: Nikolai Gogol
Genre: Classic Fiction
Pages: 295 (large type/widely spaced)
Rating: 4 of 5
This is one of those rare books that I enjoyed quite a bit even though the main characters were pretty awful people and the author’s worldview is questionable at best…the emotional writing just sucked me in. It felt like a literary version of some of the themes that Robert E. Howard tried to embody in his Conan the Barbarian stories: the joy, honesty, and freedom of being an uncivilized/semi-civilized brute.
The relatively short story follows the exploits of the Cossack Taras Bulba and his two young adult sons who have just returned from school in Kiev. Their journey takes them from the riotous living at Setch Zoporozhia to a punitive expedition against the despised Roman Catholic Poles (to say nothing of the despised Jews and despised Muslims) and beyond. If you know anything about Russian literature, you know that this is not going to be a happy story overall, but Gogol infuses his characters with such life and passion that even when you are disgusted by their atrocities and prejudices you are somehow drawn to their vitality. In the end, I suppose the book boils down to an anti-Polish propaganda piece bragging about the glory of the Russian (Cossack) spirit (while ignoring that they are Ukrainian), but Gogol could sure write!
Also, I’m using this as my Russian Classic over at the Back to the Classics Challenge.