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Sholokhov, Mikhail

melekhov soviet war stalin

(Soviet, 1905–84)

Sholokhov fought for the Reds during the Russian Civil War and Quiet Flows the Don (1928–40) was written out of that experience. It's a massive, compelling epic of the Don Cossack uprising against Bolshevik power, but at heart it's a love triangle between the peasant-warrior Gregory Melekhov, his devoted wife Natalya, and his village mistress Aksinya. Melekhov is as torn between the warring armies and ideologies of Red and White as he is between women, shifting allegiances until he is left alone, fighting on bravely but without hope, against historical forces he can neither understand nor master. Sholokhov was much influenced by War and Peace but lacks Tolstoy's range and psychological penetration. Many of Sholokhov's characters are ciphers but his portrayals of the Melekhov family and Cossack peasant life are as vivid and sexually earthy as Zola, his evocation of the Don country is magnificent, and his depiction of the Civil War brutally honest and politically unbiased. It's clearly Gregory Melekhov the ‘reactionary’ rebel with whom we sympathize, not the pitiless ‘progressive’ Bolshevik, Koshevoi. Which is why he had to justify the book personally to Stalin who, astonishingly, gave it his blessing. In later life Sholokhov's powers waned—Virgin Soil Upturned (1932–60), is a dull apologia for Stalin's brutal land collectivization. He became a scourge of Soviet dissidents, and his post-Soviet reputation has suffered accordingly (to the extent of being—wrongly—accused of plagiarizing his greatest book), but Quiet Flows the Don remains one of the great books of the century. Sholokhov won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965.

Leo Tolstoy, Émile Zola, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens.


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