Book review: And the Earth Will Sit on the Moon

And the Earth Will Sit on the Moon

And the Earth Will Sit on the Moon:
Essential Stories
,
by Nikolai Gogol
Pushkin Press
Release date ??
very confusing:
05/12/2019 in UK??
04/06/2021 in the US??
224 pages
Classics/Short stories/Russian Literature

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Short stories is far from being my favorite literary genre, to say the least. But knowing that Nikolai Gogol is THE Russian genius in this domain, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to review And the Earth Will Sit on the Moon, an upcoming collection of five of his most famous stories.

The volume contains five stories.
The excellent introduction by the translator, Oliver Ready, throws light on their social context, basically Saint Petersburg in the early 1830s, which helps understand the satire present under the text. It refers to the stories as being “richly disorienting” and to their “high comedy and strangeness”. I cannot but agree, and I was actually surprised. Those are definitely not characteristics I was expecting. They sound more post-modern than being written by an author who died in 1852. 

To give you an idea of the strangeness we are talking about, we can turn to the first story presented here, The Nose. A barber cuts a piece of bread, and inside he finds a nose. Then we see a man waking up with a smooth face, his nose missing. Suddenly, he sees someone walking down the street and he recognizes that’s his nose!! Will he be able to catch it and reattach it to his face?

In Diary of a Mad Man, a man witnesses two dogs talking like humans, and even refer to a letter one sent to the other. So he decides to look more closely at the matter and figure out what they are up to.’

I was no longer surprised. After all, many such things have been known to happen in the world.

Then the guy gets madder and madder and thinks he is the king of Spain. It is in that story that we find the line chosen for the title of the book:

Tomorrow at seven o’cock a strange phenomenon will occur: the earth will sit on the moon.

And we find a connection with the first story:

The moon itself is too tender a sphere for human life, so only noses live there now. Which is why we cannot see our own noses: they are all in the moon.

Incidentally, I noticed a near prophetic line:

In France, according to reports, most people already practice the faith of Mohammed.

The Overcoat is actually a very sad story about a clerk and his old overcoat, and what happened when he finally managed to get a new one.

The story entitled Old World Landowners begins with their supposedly bucolic and quiet life. But then….

In that strange way our world is arranged, petty causes have always given birth to great events, just as great ventures have always ended with petty consequences.

The Carriage is about pride and boasting in material goods, at least I think so.

Beside the strangeness of these stories, there’s a lot of humorist and satiric details, seen especially in very lively dialogs between people pertaining to different social categories. There’s a lot concerning rank and title.

Don’t you realize, you cretinous vassal, that I am a civil servant, noble born?

Some of the humor is aimed at Pushkin and quite a few passages at the French!

My God the French are so dim! I mean really, what do they want?

The translation was very pleasant with the text and dialogs flowing nicely.
However, I have the feeling I remained at the superficial level of these stories and couldn’t really access their deeper meaning. It felt a bit like landing on a  new planet and not knowing at all how to communicate with its strange inhabitants.
The text is accompanied with good notes. Personally, I would have preferred a much longer book with many more notes, analyzing and explaining even more the subtext and what Gogol was aiming at.

So after reading the book, I looked around and found a wonderful website, with a whole section on Gogol and his short stories. For instance, about The Nose, I read, “the absurdist loss of the nose is a literary device that emphasizes the absurd superficiality at the heart of these class distinctions and social aspirations.”

VERDICT: A good sample of strange and disorienting short stories of the Russian master in the genre.

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HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
Any other short story by him you think I should really read?
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS  IN A COMMENT PLEASE

In full compliance with FTC Guidelines, I received this ebook free of charge through Edelweiss Plus, for review. I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.

8 thoughts on “Book review: And the Earth Will Sit on the Moon

  1. The only book I have read by Gogol is Dead Souls, a novel. The emphasis on social class is very much there though. At first I found it hard going but soon realized that humans get into these classes and snobbishnesses no matter what country or century. I would like to read his short stories some day, so thank you for your review.

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  2. I agree with your view on short stories. Usually, only a few are interesting and the rest, I feel like they should have been left out.

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  3. Okay so… I saw this on Edelweiss and decided against requesting it. It just sounded too… strange for my tastes. (By the way, publication dates are really getting messed up these days – some books get pushed forward, some get pushed back, and then we’re not sure when they’ll come out in the US or the UK. Crazy times!)

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