And Quiet Flows the Don is a wonderfully authentic and moving portrait of the Cossack people set against the backdrop of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Mikhail Sholokhov masterfully explores the full gamut of human experience in this novel, leaving no stone unturned. From love and friendship, to marital infidelity and death he traces the fortunes of a Cossack family as they confront the vicissitudes of life. What I enjoyed most about And Quiet Flows the Don was Sholokhov’s natural infusion of Cossack cultural traditions, customs and cuisine into the story as well as the meticulous, rich development of each character, no matter their significance. This latter aspect, indeed draws one into the story more and more, as the characters and settings are described in vivid detail. Equally enthralling were the gruesome battle and execution scenes, in which Sholokhov does not spare the reader’s imagination. My only very minor critique of And Quiet Flows the Don relates to the infrequent parts of the novel which I found too philosophical. In particular I am referring to the chapters dealing with Bolshevism and Marxism, which seemed at times dry, rambling and overly noetic.
One of my favorite paragraphs from And Quiet Flows the Don is:
“…I perceive the future life like a distant, distant, magically beautiful music. Just as one sometimes hears it in sleep… Do you hear music in your sleep? It is not a separate, slender melody, but a mighty, growing perfectly, harmonized hymn. Who doesn’t love beauty? I love it in all, even its smallest manifestations…”
Such pretty prose!
However, Sholokhov certainly does not shy away from using less flowery, more crass yet equally powerful speech when needed. For example:
“…‘So you’re trying to put the blame on me?’ he said slowly, biting a blade of grass.
‘And aren’t you to blame?’ she cried fiercely.
‘A dog doesn’t worry an unwilling bitch.’
Aksinia hid her face in her hands. The strong, calculated insult came like a blow.“
In summary, Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don is without a doubt a literary masterpiece, which deservedly earned him a Nobel Prize. He certainly belongs in the rarified company of great Russian writers like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
Have you read And Quiet Flows the Don? What do you think about it? Or have you read any of Sholokhov’s other books? Which one would you recommend and why? Please feel free to share your thoughts in a comment below.