‘AND QUIET FLOWS THE DON’
Our book club choice for July presented us with another challenging read and provoked a variety of reactions. Consequently we had a very interesting meeting, with what the politicians might describe as a lively exchange of views. These ranged from a couple of outright refusals to finish the book at all, to appreciation of Sholokov's accounts of Cossack life and the part played by the Don Cossacks before, during and after the Russian Revolution. Sholokov was born in the land of the Cossacks so his descriptions of village life are presumably authentic, and to me those were the most interesting parts of the book. I enjoyed learning about a part of the world of which I knew nothing, and the descriptions of the River Don are lovely. So are the constant references to farm life and the passing of the seasons and these go some way to mitigate the seemingly endless episodes of violence and slaughter. I didn't find any of the principal characters particularly engaging, but some of the minor ones were well drawn and they are the ones I shall remember. The later parts of the book become disjointed and make it hard to follow what was happening; some central characters more or less disappear and others emerge to take their place. Some of these are the mouthpieces for the political idealism that influenced the Revolution and the subsequent turmoil; here the book becomes overtly political and the emphasis shifts from the story of the Cossacks to the story of Russia itself, and in my view the novel suffers as a result.
The Cossacks in this epic story live in the village of Tatarsk on the banks of the river Don in Southern Russia. The river Don is the only quiet part in this novel and it is the beautiful descriptions of nature and the Steppes through the seasons that gives the reader some respite from the turbulent and hard lives of the people in the book.
A tedious, overly descriptive, over long novel on the Russian Revolution and the period leading up to it from a Cossack point of view. Extremely violent, with sickening and often gory descriptions of wife-beating, fighting, executions and killing. Unclear and confusing regarding the part played by the various factions of White, Red, Bolshevik and Cossack in the Revolution. Long tracts of Communist propaganda. Scarcely a single character to like or identify with. I can scarcely remember enjoying a book less.