Waiting for Gogol

Contemporary Russian writers continue to channel the humanism and satire of Nikolai Gogol, whose humor was both biting and joyful. Two hundred years' after his birth, the best Russian writers still look to him for guidance, and his writing stands up as thoroughly modern.
In Gogol's "Dead Souls," a young man comes up with a grimly profitable scenario worthy of a Wall Street crook. Chichikov, a romantic schemer of the Russian provinces, takes dead serfs off of rich landowners' accounts so they don't have to pay taxes on these "dead souls."

"We can't help but look at the hero of `Dead Souls' increasing his apparent assets by accumulating worthless ones and not think about how close this is to current times," said novelist Ken Kalfus, whose love for Russia can be found in at least two of his books ("PU239 and Other Russian Fantasies" and "The Commissariat of Enlightenment"). We don't love Gogol for his relevance, Kalfus added, but for "his beautiful language (even in translation), his appealing characters, his humanity."

If President Barack Obama requested a Russian reading list before his next meeting with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian intelligentsia would certainly put Gogol's "Dead Souls" at the top. Some might even suggest that reading Gogol ("The Overcoat," "The Nose" and his Ukrainian tales) alone is enough to understand Russian duality and the sometimes mystical, sometimes nationalistic idea of the Russian soul. Joseph Brodsky wrote that Gogol was at his best when he wrote at the edge of his own abyss, but eventually he fell in. After burning what might have been his best manuscript (which Socialist Realist artist Repin immortalized in his painting), Gogol painfully starved himself to death. Most prefer to recall a younger Gogol at his most humorous, when he could make even the czar laugh at him. In this month's Russia Now, we are fortunate to have two acclaimed Russain writers, Eugene Popov (https://www.rbth.ru/articles/2009/04/29/290409_legacy.html) and Aleksander Melikhov (https://www.rbth.ru/articles/2009/04/29/290409_satirist.html), celebrate Gogol and introduce us to his literary children, Russia's New Realists.

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