The book club met last week to discuss three short stories by Gogol: “The Nose,” “Diary of a Madman,” and “The Overcoat.” Olga helped by explaining the political and historical background of 19th century Russia, which boils down to: serfs, a strong liberal, Enlightenment attitude among intellectuals, heavy censorship, an ossified civil service where rank was everything. She also talked about Gogol as a stylist in the original Russian. His descriptions are vivid and painterly.

I especially liked the mixture of social satire, psychological insight, and sheer madness. The phantasmagorical world issues suddenly out of the most mundane situations.

That said, Gogol did not appeal to all. You have to have a taste for irony and a delight in lunacy to enjoy these stories. I liked them better than I expected. I’d remembered “The Overcoat” as a dismal, sad story of a lower-ranking and meek civil servant. It was that, yet there were great humorous moments and the ending was an amazing flight of fantasy.

Van Gogh’s paintings come to mind when reading Gogol.


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