domingo, 4 de enero de 2015

The Overcoat - Nikolai Gogol


* This review may contain a little spoiler *

My first contact with Gogol, and certainly not my last.
This little book tells the story of Akakiy Akakievitch, a certain official in a certain department where nobody showed him any sign of respect. He was laughed at by his co-workers. That must be one of the worst thing that may happen to any human being: realizing that high school did not end (for a lot of people, it wasn't all flowers and rainbows). All the bullying, the bad jokes, the embarrassing moments that make you gently ask the ground to eat you alive, the psychological violence you cannot get rid of, all that, now... at your workplace? You have to love the irony.

The Overcoat is, well, a story about an overcoat. It seems to have more importance than Akakiy himself, the responsible guy with the unfortunate name. That is another thing... mothers, what the hell are you thinking when you give your children ridiculous names? Please, spare them a lot of trouble and save yourselves a lot of money in psychologists and start naming your kids properly. I don't know why they don't change their own name into some fruit, weird magicians, comic superheroes, cars, cardinal points or whatever they seem to love. Especially you, celebrity people who don't know I exist and won't read this in your entire life!
Okay. Rant officially over. (If you search for "Akakiy Akakievitch", you will understand. I had to do that because I wanted to know why the author spent several lines explaining how he got his name and yeah, I don't speak Russian.)

As I was saying, this book is about a man that was constantly humiliated at work and his ruined overcoat, which he wanted to repair because of the cold, cold winter and the bad, bad jokes. So he decided to buy a new one and after living under a tight budget, he managed to do so. And suddenly, he was a respectable man. That laughable poor devil who always endured those vicious jokes and never replied to anyone, was now a significant part of his department; of society, even. His brand new overcoat gave him confidence, some self esteem. People at his department even organized a party in his honor. Actually, in the overcoat's honor but still, it was a big deal. And then something happened...

I loved this story. I found some honest and beautiful lines...
...and many a time afterwards, in the course of his life, shuddered at seeing how much inhumanity there is in man, how much savage coarseness is concealed beneath delicate, refined worldliness, and even, O God! in that man whom the world acknowledges as honorable and noble.

...that reflect society back then. And now. Everything seems to change but the most remarkable aspects don't change that much. That is one of the reasons I love literature. Books written hundreds of years ago reflect situations, attitudes, emotions, ways of thinking that we see nowadays. Feelings towards routine and overbearing bureaucracy, discrimination, injustice, exploitation, alienation are the same two centuries ago and now. Not all writers have what it takes to explore these universal emotions and write something that you can immediately relate to. But Gogol seems to be one of them. Apparently, he had that keen eye meant to observe individuals and humanity as a whole, and was able to write about it in such a beautiful manner (I could totally see my previous boss in some pages).

Gogol's influence on Russian literature is unquestionable. Dostoyevsky, Bulgakov. It also appears in Kafka's work, so my favorite authors are kind of connected here.
The Overcoat is a short story that contains too much. Do not miss it.

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