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September 17, 2005

The Overcoat


Today I read the short story "The Overcoat" by Nikolai Gogol. Sadly, this is the first piece of Russian literature I am reading but glad I started at some place. (Few weeks back I read Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Namesake" and the novel refers to this short story by Gogol and the main characters name in "Namesake" is Gogol too. So I got curious and found the story.)

The story brought me almost to tears even before I finished it. I had a lump in my throat as soon as I started reading it and I cannot remember any other short story which has moved me so. It reminded me of O.Henry's "The Gift of Magi" but only the emotion I felt not the story itself.

"The Overcoat" is about a middle-aged man named Akakiy Akakievitch. He is an uninteresting man who leads an uninteresting life until he gets himself a new overcoat to protect himself from the horrible Russian winter.

"There exists in St. Petersburg a powerful foe of all who receive a salary of four hundred rubles a year, or thereabouts. This foe is no other than the Northern cold, although it is said to be very healthy."

A few hours of happiness for Akakievitch and it is all snatched away at the end of the day by a terrible event. The story does not end abruptly and I like the way Gogol goes on with it. That does not mean it has a happy ending either but at least it softens the blow and that’s a relief for softies like me. Also, Gogol writes a sad story with a slight funny note to it and that only adds contrast, in my opinion. Although the story is in the 19th century, the bureaucracy is the same we experience even today. The "Do you know whom you are speaking to" and "The Superiors not mingling with the people below their ranks" reminds me of the very same situation we see today.

"The Overcoat" is considered to be one of the classic short stories of all times and also one of the most popular, so enough has been said about it. And nothing, a person like me who does not know anything about classics, can add to it. This is just my "I read it too and I loved it too" report. I am looking forward to read more of such stories.

Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-1852)

4 comments:

hyperbolically yours said...

I very much enjoyed The Namesake as well and had remembered reading The Overcoat many years ago. If you are interested in the Russian writer I suggest starting with Chekov. Great short stories. I am also reading a lot of things Indian - written by Indians living in the US mostly. Read Junglee Girl last year - very sensual. Ginu was a presenter at the writing conference I volunteer for every year and got to meet her as well.

noodles said...

russian writers really portray some strong emotions..chekov and maxim gorky wud be good authors to start off with..and perhaps nabokov, if u can call him russian, that is..

B o o said...

Thank you for the comments. Interestingly, I did a small research of my own and started reading Chekov's "The Lady with the dog". I want to read "The Nose" by Gogol too. My list is growing and thank you for the suggestions.

The Visitor said...

Comment on your post "The Overcoat"

Too late to respond to this post - but your reference to Gogol reminded me of a book by Gogol "Evening on the Farm near Dikanka". A very nice pleasant book, if I recall correctly. As suggested by others Chekov is excellent, Gorky was prominent during the soviet revolution, so his writings would have that influence. His autobiography is good. Though I haven't read Nabakov, I heard great reviews of his Lolita. This link might interest you - Review of 'Reading Lolita in Teheran'. Incidentally, GB is an excellent writer, her blog is worth a visit. A sample funny piece by GB - GB speaks.