Recommended by Charles Mudede
The richest tradition in Russian literature does not begin with Leo Tolstoy but with Nikolai Gogol. In the first half of the 19th century, Gogol formed the foundation of a tradition that includes Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Yury Olesha, Vladimir Nabokov, Sasha Sokolov, and Tatyana Tolstaya with only three major works: a novel (Dead Souls), a novella (The Overcoat), and a play (The Government Inspector). The first work is one of the greatest things ever written in the universe that is known. The second is a masterpiece of Russian literature, and the third is just plain fun. The play involves a young man who is mistaken for a secret inspector by the corrupt officials of a small town. These officials do everything they can to please the young man. Wives and daughters are offered to him, and he accepts all of these gifts. Like Dead Souls and Overcoat, the humor in The Government Inspector is not bright or totally dark. It’s a humor that’s mezhdu sokakoi i volkom—between the dog and the wolf. This is the time of day when the shepherd can’t tell who is the friend and who is the enemy of his flock. This is the twilight time.