Mikhail Sholokhov: Тихий Дон (Part 1: And Quiet Flows the Don; Part 2: The Don Flows Home to the Sea)
Sholokhov is often said to be the only worthwhile Soviet novelist and this work the greatest novel of the Soviet era. It is sometimes compared – erroneously, in my view – to War and Peace. The book is not without controversy. Some writers have suggested that Sholokhov essentially stole the story from another writer. When writing the novel, Sholokhov had trouble with the Soviet authorities, who complained that his book did not fully portray the worker point of view, that it was too anti-Bolshevik and pro-Cossack and that it was not sufficiently Communist and he had a certain amount of difficulty in getting it published.
The story concerns the Melekhovs, a Cossack family, with a Turkish antecedent. Gregor Melekhov is having an affair with Aksinia, the wife of a neighbour, so his father forces him to marry Natalia Korshunov. He continues the affair with Aksinia and she has a baby by him. The couple run away and Gregor then goes off to join the army. When he returns he finds that Aksinia has been unfaithful to him and that their daughter has died so he is reconciled with Natalia. He goes back to the army but then joins the Red Army but is disgusted by the brutalities of the Bolsheviks and joins the White Army. Gregor goes back to Aksinia and when Natalia hears about it, she tries to abort Gregor’s child but dies in the attempt. Gregor again joins the Red Army, to fight the Poles but finally realises that fighting is not what he wants and effectively retires from fighting, ending up back with his family. All of this, of course, is against the background of both the Don region and the civil war in Russia in the early 1920s.
The book is certainly a great epic, though not as great as War and Peace, and undoubtedly the finest Soviet novel and well worth reading. It should be pointed out that, despite the claims of publishers and booksellers, the versions available in English are not complete but the version I have (the Garry (i.e. Harry Stephens) version) is nearly 1500 pages in the two volumes so you probably have enough to be going on with.
First published 1928 by Moskovskii rabochii
First published in English 1930 by Foreign Languages Publishing House