okl wrote:waldo give a review of these books, they all sound amazing and i never read any of them
I'm not really good at giving reviews and it's been years since I read any of these besides Dead Souls, which I read for the 3rd time a year and a half ago
Moscow-Petushki is a super quick read, you should really do it in just one or two sittings, it abounds in small genius (it is quite amusing how women squat so cutely to urinate, but after all, it was a woman also who tried to shoot lenin. damned women! squat all you like, but why shoot at vladimir ilich?). comradewolf is right in that it would do well with a hipinion crowd. when I taught classes to russian-speakers I would talk about Erofeev and his deconstruction of the russian narrative to give an idea of what james joyce did to English literature.
We is a dystopian novel. Like Brave New World and 1984, the temptation of the individual to break with the wider society is compared to a lonely professional man's obsession with a mysterious woman. but We is much broader in its scope than those other two, if BNW and 1984 are like allegories showing the pitfalls of specific social orders huxley and orwell saw as a threat in their own times, We is much more mind-blowing in its alien-ness. It is set hundreds of thousands of years in the future rather than only decades, and the transformation of the culture is much more complete. so while bnw and 1984 are, as good as they are, basically political tracts, We is a more philosophical exploration of what order and society and revolution and science all mean. I think it's probably the greatest literary achievement of the dystopian genre, but it's not as well known as the others, basically because it isn't so quickly distilled into easy morals by 8th grade social studies teachers.
so Dead Souls is Gogol's reimagining of the Divine Comedy in 19th century Russia with a petty noble trying to buy already-dead-but-legally-alive serfs to use them as collateral in a financial scheme. I read it two times in English translations when I was younger and never really got the appeal of it, even though I understood why it was influential, I'm embarrassed to say it seemed kinda flat and it dragged as Chichikov got acquainted with all these different cartoonish characters. It wasn't until my Russian got good enough to read it in the original that my mind was totally blown, I was laughing on nearly every page, because I realized the characters weren't really these flat, symbolic cartoons, but just caricatures of real species of russian people as they actually are. I think the humor of Gogol is extremely difficult to translate (though maybe I just read bad versions, I don't know what the best version is but if Pevear&Volokhonsky did one I'd probably go for that), so you should definitely get an original copy okl.
Petty Demon I read four years ago in Russian, and I remember it being awesome but my Russian really wasn't up to reading a book so complicated at the time, so a lot of it went over my head. I've been meaning to re-read it, so if the book club decides to do that I'll take part.
edit: I can say about Petty Demon that Sologub (who is more famous for his poetry) attempted it as an experiment to see what would happen if he made the main character the most despicable person he could imagine in every possible respect, and then build the story up logically from the character.