Russia has had four winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Brodsky, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn and Mikhail Sholokov. Sholokov is famous for his novel “And Quiet Flows the Don“. This book is a collection of short stories, essays, letters and other works by Sholokov. He was an ardent communist, Sholokhov met Joseph Stalin in 1930 and must have made a good impression, because he was one of very few people who could give the dictator a truthful account of what was happening in the country without risk to himself. Some of the pieces seem a little dated now with their communist overtones like “Concerning the Don Food Requisitioning Committee (The Misadventures of Comrade Ptitsin)”. Lenin is often praised, Stalin however isn’t mentioned. The works span a period from 1923 to 1963. Praise is given to Soviet dam construction along with claims it is so much superior to American dam construction.
There is much about the horrors of the Second World War, detailing Nazi atrocities in Russian villages along the Don and the hardships endured by Russian POWs. But he is ever confident of the Nazis being defeated: “The Fuhrer made a mistake in attacking Russia. Russia is a very large mouthful, which may choke poor Germany.”
There is also much about scant food supplies, so that the description of “a crust of bread and some onion, with salt” sounds like a feast.
I read these pieces in translation, so I would imagine I am losing something from the original Russian. I have a Lithuanian friend, who is no fan of the Russians but wishes to retain her Russian to read their great literature in the original language.
Having recently read “Bad Land” by Jonathan Raban, I am reminded of how the homesteaders of Eastern Montana were sold on the idea of farming on the prairies much like this description of the future of the steppe:
“The destructive ulcers of the steppe, the ravines, will disappear. The menacing black storms will die out. Drought will be banished, the climate will grow milder, moister and man’s life in the steppe incomparably more comfortable, finer and richer.”
Sholokov is very proud of the working classes and the Cossacks and has little bad to say about the Soviet Union.
My rating 3 out of 5