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And Quiet Flows the Don (1928)

by Mikhail Sholokhov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Don Epic (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,3791611,152 (4.03)80
Passionate and proud, Grigory Melekhov is at first attracted by the Communists' promises of social justice, but is repelled by their violent methods and finds himself embroiled in the Cossack campaign against them.

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English (14)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
There are so many versions of this book on Goodreads because this book has been reprinted so many times. It's one of those classics, like War and Peace, that endures. It is a multi-volume epic, and aside from its intimidating size, how is an American reader supposed to choose an edition? Many of the editions I've come across claim to be abridged, and the unabridged novel series goes under varying titles. It's all rather confusing. Giving up after a while of browsing, I finally read the Signet Classics edition, at just over 500 pages. I'm not worried about how "abridged" it is, because the content of those 500 pages was brimming, bursting at the seams with human endeavor, war set-pieces, nature meditations, tragic and poetic elegance, intense action and a narrative which flowed like a river.

The author was in love with the Don river, one would assume from its presence in all of his titles, but people take center stage in his epic. In fact, the author was concerned with portraying the mountains, fields, farms, and battlegrounds with equal facility - but these reflections are nothing without their inhabitants. The Cossacks who people this landscape are as well-rounded, flawed and "human" as many of the characters from Tolstoy. If I had to pinpoint another author who could compare to Sholokhov, it would have to be Tolstoy. Except there are some fundamental differences. Sholokhov had to stop his education in high school, and worked many years on his 4-volume novel of the Don, which he eventually serialized in a major publication after much hemming and hawing on the part of publishers. After the novel's merit was recognized universally, it became a bestseller, was condemned by the Soviet authorities, who wanted to cut it down to safer proportions, until it finally won the author a Nobel Prize.

Like Tolstoy's novels, you will find too many characters to count here. It takes place during the Bolshevik Revolution, mainly out in the fray, against the breathtaking backdrop of the goose-sprinkled countrysides, the cow-studded farms, the poor and downtrodden villages, and always, like a subdued meta-protagonist, the Don river flows through it all, connecting the people to the land and the history to the land. There are many memorable deaths, cinematic triumphs, and intimate familial spats. It possesses a balanced pace and a jam-packed cast of everyday men and women, lost in the harrying tempest of war, and swept up in the history unfolding before their eyes.

The only issue may be that the complexity of the political climate and many historical details may be lost on some contemporary readers. I won't pretend I remember every last tripartite Russian name and the intricate conflicts of their idiosyncratic domestic and professional bonds. But digging a little deeper will likely reward you, if you're astute. This is not War and Peace Lite. This is another beast of equal scope and length, equally challenging, fun, and a fundamentally important work of world literature. ( )
  LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
A Russian epic of war, Cossack village life and the human element. Reasonably well written although it wanders often, skips about and can be tedious. The characters are remote and give the reader little reason to care much about them.

It was decent enough to read four hundred pages worth, so 2.5 stars ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
Fictional account of the Cossack culture during the Russian Revolution ( )
  JackSweeney | Jan 10, 2017 |
A 20th century Cossack 'War and Peace'
By sally tarbox on 7 November 2016
Format: Kindle Edition
Set in the Russian lands bordering the Ukraine, this mammoth (615 p) read opens up just prior to WW1. The first section, 'Peace', follows the Cossack Melekhov family. Theirs is a hard agricultural life and a traditional one, where marriages are arranged and where the Church is at the centre of life. Yet even so, younger son Gregor is involved in a secret relationship with his neighbour's wife... Sholokhov's writing is compelling, his descriptions of the countryside bordering the Don poetic.
And then we enter the second section as "War" is declared, and the Melekhov men join up. But as "Revolution" and "Civil War" take over, I found it all a bit much. We move away from the Melekhovs and find ourselves following umpteen different characters, as the Cossacks go in different political directions, some persuaded by the Red Bolshevik message, others fearful that this will mean their precious lands are confiscated. There are certainly powerful scenes, but also a lot of political talk which seemed to go on for page after page.
Having recently finished reading Shalamov's 'Kolyma Tales' (about Stalin's Siberian gulags), the naive beliefs of an idyllic future under proletarian leadership struck me as particularly sad:
"When every government is a workers' government they won't fight any more...What shall we have to fight about then? Away with frontiers, away with anger! One beautiful life all over the world...I'd pour out my blood drop by drop to live to see that day."
Certainly a masterly work - but I was glad to reach the last page! ( )
2 vote starbox | Nov 6, 2016 |
Utterly magnificent. ( )
1 vote ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
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An epic novel in four volumes by Russian writer Mikhail Alexandrovich Sholokhov!

» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sholokhov, Mikhailprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Daglish, RobertEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garry, StephanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laín Entralgo, JoséTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Not with the plough is our dear, glorious earth furrowed,
Our earth is furrowed with the hoofs of horses;
And our dear, glorious earth is sown with the heads of cossacks:
Our gentle Don is adorned with youthful widows:
Out gentle father Don is blossomed with orphans;
The waves of the gentle Don are rich with fathers' and mothers' tears.

"O thou, our father, gentle Don!
Oh why dost thou, gentle Don, flow so troubledly?"
"Ah, how should I, the gentle Don, not flow troubledly?
From my depths, the depths of the Don, the cold springs beat;
Amid me, the gentle Don, the white fish leap."

– Old Cossack Songs
First words
The Melekhov farm was at the very end of the village. The gate of the cattle-yard opened northward towards the Don. A steep, fifty-foot slope between chalky, mossgrown banks, and there was the shore. A pearly drift of mussel-shells, a grey, broken edging of wave-kissed shingle, and then-the steel-blue, rippling surface of the Don, seething in the wind. To the east, beyond the willow-wattle fences of threshing-floors-the Hetman's highway, grizzled wormwood scrub, the hardy greyish-brown, hoof-trodden plantain, a cross standing at the fork of the road, and then the steppe, enveloped in a shifting haze. To the south, a chalky ridge of hills. To the west, the street, crossing the square and running towards the leas.

The Cossack Prokofy Melekhov returned to the village during the last war but one with Turkey. He brought back a wife—a little woman wrapped from head to foot in a shawl. She kept her face covered, and rarely revealed her wild, yearning eyes. The silken shawl bore the scent of strange, aromatic perfumes; its rainbow-hued patterns aroused the envy of the Cossack women. The captive Turkish woman kept aloof from Prokofy’s relations, and before long old Melekhov gave his son his portion. All his life the old man refused to set foot inside his son’s house; he never got over the disgrace.

Prokofy speedily made shift for himself; carpenters built him a house, he himself fenced in the cattle-yard, and in the early autumn he took his bowed foreign wife to her new home. He walked with her through the village, behind the cart laden with their worldly goods. Everybody, from the oldest to the youngest, rushed into the street. The men laughed discreetly into their beards, the women passed vociferous remarks to one another, a swarm of unwashed Cossack children shouted catcalls after Prokofy. But, with overcoat unbuttoned, he walked slowly along, as though following a freshly-ploughed furrow, squeezing his wife’s fragile wrist in his own enormous, black palm, and holding his head with its straw-white mat of curls high in defiance. Only the wens below his cheek-bones swelled and quivered, and the sweat stood out between his stony brows.

Thenceforth he was rarely seen in the village, and never even attended the Cossack gatherings. He lived a secluded life in his solitary house by the Don. Strange stories were told of him in the village. The boys who pastured the calves beyond the meadow-road declared that of an evening, as the light was dying, they had seen Prokofy carrying his wife in his arms right as far as the Tatar burial mound. He would set her down, with her back to an ancient, weather-beaten, porous rock, on the crest of the mound, sit down at her side, and they would gaze fixedly across the steppe. They would gaze until the sunset had faded, and then Prokofy would wrap his wife in his sheepskin and carry her back home. The village was lost in conjecture, seeking an explanation for such astonishing behaviour. The women gossiped so much that they had not even time to search each other’s heads for lice. Rumour was rife about Prokofy’s wife also; some declared that she was of entrancing beauty; others maintained the contrary. The matter was settled when one of the most venturesome of the women, the soldier’s wife Mavra, ran along to Prokofy’s house on the pretext of getting some leaven; Prokofy went down into the cellar for the leaven, and Mavra had time to discover that Prokofy’s Turkish conquest was a perfect fright.

A few minutes later Mavra, her face flushed and her kerchief awry, was entertaining a crowd of women in a by-lane:

“And what could he have seen in her, my dears? If she’d only been a woman now, but a creature like her! Our girls are far better covered! Why, you could pull her apart like a wasp. And those great big black eyes, she flashes them like Satan, God forgive me. She must be near her time, God’s truth.”

“Near her time?” the women marvelled.

“I wasn't born yesterday! I've reared three myself.”

“But what's her face like?”

“Her face? Yellow. No light in her eyes—doesn’t find life in a strange land to her fancy, I should say. And what’s more, girls, she wears. . . Prokofy’s trousers!”

“No!” the women drew in their breath together.

“I saw them myself; she wears trousers, only without stripes. It must be his everyday trousers she has. She wears a long shift, and underneath you can see the trousers stuffed into socks. When I saw them my blood ran cold.”

The whisper went round the village that Prokofy’s wife was a witch. Astakhov’s daughter in-law (the Astakhovs were Prokofy’s nearest neighbours) swore that on the second day of Trinity, before dawn, she had seen Prokofy’s wife, barefoot, her hair uncovered, milking the Astakhovs’ cow. Since then its udder had withered to the size of a child’s fist, the cow had lost its milk and died soon after.

That year there was an unusual dying-off of cattle. By the shallows of the Don fresh carcasses of cows and young bulls appeared on the sandy shore every day. Then the horses were affected. The droves grazing on the village pasturelands melted away. And through the lanes and streets of the village crept an evil rumour.
A small dark-skinned corporal was standing near the leading platoon. He was taking chocolate out of his map-case and unwrapping it. The corners of his rosy lips were smeared with chocolate. As he walked down the line his long mud-caked greatcoat dangled between his legs like a sheep’s tail. The Cossacks came down the left side of the street. Ivan Alexeyevich, the engine-man, was on the outside file in one of the ranks of the Second Troop. He was marching with his eyes fixed on the ground, trying to avoid the puddles. Someone called to him from the ranks of the infantry, and he turned his head and passed his eyes over the soldiers.

“Ivan Alexeyevich! Old friend. . . .”

A little soldier broke away from his platoon and came running awkwardly towards him, throwing his rifle back over his shoulder. But the sling slipped and the butt jangled against his mess tin.

“Don’t you know me? Forgotten me already?”

With difficulty Ivan Alexeyevich recognized the little soldier, whose mouth and chin were covered with a bristling, smoky-grey beard, as Knave.

“Where’s you sprung from?”

“I’m in this regiment, the 318th Chernoyarsk. I never expected to meet any of my old friends here.”

Still gripping Knave’s dirty little hand in his own bony fist, Ivan Alexeyevich smiled gladly and with emotion. Knave, hurrying to keep up with his long stride, began to trot, looking up into Ivan’s eyes, while the gaze of his own close-set embittered little eyes was unusually tender and moist.

“We’re going into an attack. . . .”

“And so are we.”

“Well, how are you getting on, Ivan Alexeyevich?”

“There’s nothing to tell.”

“The same here. I haven’t been out of the trenches since 1914. Never had a home or family of my own, but I’ve got to fight for someone.”

“D’you remember Stockman? He was a good fellow, our Osip Davidovich! He’d tell us what it was all about. He was a man, if ever there was one. . . .”

“Do I remember him!” Knave cried, shaking his tiny fist and crinkling his little bristly face into a smile. “I remember him better than my own father. Never had much use for my father. You never heard how he got on, did you?”

“He’s in Siberia,” Ivan Alexeyevich sighed.

“What?” Knave asked, bobbing up and down beside his tall friend, and cocking his foxy ear.

“He’s in prison. For all I know he may be dead now.”

Knave walked along without speaking for a moment or two, now looking back to where his company was assembling, now gazing up at Ivan’s stern chin and the deep round dimple right under the lower lip.

“Good-bye!” he said, releasing his hand from Ivan’s. “I don’t suppose we’ll be seeing each other again.”

With his left hand the Cossack removed his cap, and bending down, he put his arm round Knave’s stringy shoulders. They kissed each other firmly, as though saying good-bye for ever, and Knave dropped back. His head suddenly sank on his breast, so that only the dark rosy tips of his ears emerged from his grey great-coat. He turned back, huddled up and stumbling over his feet.

Ivan Alexeyevich broke away from the rank, and called with a quiver in his voice:

“Hey, brother! Brother! You were bitter, weren’t you! D’you remember? You were a strong one ... eh?”

Knave turned his tear-stained face, and beat his fist on his bony breast through his open greatcoat and torn shirt.

“I was ! I was hard ! But they’ve crushed me now. . . . They’ve driven the old horse to death!”

He shouted something else, but the Cossack squadron turned into a side-street, and Ivan lost sight of him.

“That was Knave, wasn’t it?” asked Prokhor Shamil who was marching behind.

“That was a man,” Ivan Alexeyevich replied heavily and his lips trembled as he tugged at his rifle sling.
They recognized Bunchuk on the extreme left, standing with a slight stoop, breathing heavily, not raising his eyes from the ground. At his side stood Lagutin, still fumbling with his drawers. The man next in line was changed almost beyond recognition, and had aged at least twenty years. Two more approached the pit and turned round. One of them was smiling challengingly and impudently, furiously cursing and threatening the silent crowd with his clenched dirty fist. The last of the eight had to be carried. He threw himself back, dragged his feet lifelessly over the ground, clung to the Cossack guards, then, shaking his tear-stained face, started up and bellowed:

“Let me go, brothers! Let me go, for the love of God! Brothers! Brothers! What are you doing! I won four crosses in the German war. I have children. God, I’m innocent. Oh, why are you doing this...?”

A tall Cossack thrust his knee into the man’s chest and drove him towards the pit. Only then did Podtyolkov recognize him, and his heart turned cold: it was one of the most fearless of his Red Guards, a man who had won all four classes of the Cross of St. George, a handsome, fair-haired young man. The Cossacks raised him upright; but he fell again and scrabbled at their feet, pressing his lips to their boots—to the boots which were kicking him in the face—and bellowing in an anguished, choking voice:

“Don’t kill me! Have mercy! I have three little children, one of them a girl ... my brothers, my friends!”

He embraced the tall Cossack’s knees, but the man tore himself away, leaped back, and gave him a swinging kick on the ear with his iron-shod heel. Blood poured from the other ear and ran down his white collar.

“Stand him up!” Spiridonov shouted furiously.

Somehow they raised him, set him up and ran back. In the opposite rank the firing party brought their rifles to the ready. The crowd groaned and froze into stillness. A woman wailed hysterically.

Bunchuk wanted once more and yet once more to look at the grey pall of the sky, at the mournful earth over which he had wandered twenty-nine years. He raised his eyes, and saw the close rank of Cossacks some fifteen paces away. He saw one man, tall, with screwed-up green eyes, a lovelock falling over his narrow white brow, his lips compressed, his body leaning forward, aiming straight at Bunchuk’s breast. Just before the volley rang out Bunchuk’s ears were pierced by a long drawn-out shriek. He turned his head: a young, freckled woman ran out of the crowd and fled towards the village, one arm clutching a baby to her breast, the other hand covering its eyes.
Two more days Grigory spent drinking in the villages lying around Karginskaya, passing an empty life in drunken carousals. The smell of vodka even saturated his saddle-cloth. Women and girls who had lost their virgin flower passed through his hands, sharing with him a brief hour of love. But each morning, satiated with the amorous fevers of the latest diversion, Grigory thought with sober indifference: “I’ve lived and experienced everything in my day. I’ve loved women and girls, I’ve ridden the steppe, I’ve rejoiced in fatherhood, I’ve killed men and faced death myself, and delighted in the blue sky. What new thing can life show me? Nothing! And I can die! It won’t be so terrible. I can play at war without risk, like a rich man gambling. My loss won’t be great.”

Childhood floated through his memory like a sunny day: starlings’ nests, his own bare feet in the hot dust, the Don, majestically still, reflecting its wooded banks, the boyish faces of his friends, the youthful figure of his mother. . . . Grigory covered his eyes with his hand. Old friends, old faces, forgotten voices, scraps of conversation, laughter. His memory turned to contemplation of the beloved steppe, and suddenly, blindingly, it opened its expanse before him. He saw the summer track across the steppe, a bullock-wagon with his father sitting on the cross-tree, the ploughed land and the golden brush of harvested grain, a black sprinkle of rooks on the road. As his mind wandered among memories of the irrevocable past, it stumbled on Aksinya. “My love, the love I shall never forget!” he thought, and contemptuously shifted away from the woman sleeping at his side. Sighing, he impatiently awaited the dawn, and hardly had the sun begun to tinge the east with hues of raspberry and gold when he jumped up, washed, and went to his horse.
There were only two Communists of the Serdobsky Regiment among the prisoners; the remainder, with the exception of Ivan, were Russians from the Yelanskaya District, tall, sturdy lads who had joined the Communist Party when the Soviet troops arrived in the area, and had served as militiamen, or chairmen of village Revolutionary Committees, and had fled to Ust-Khoperskaya to join the Red Army when the revolt broke out. In peacetime almost all of them had been craftsmen: carpenters, coopers, masons, bakers, shoemakers, and tailors. Not one of them seemed to be more than thirty-five, and the youngest was about twenty. Stalwart, handsome, with great hands gnarled by physical labour, they looked very different from the hunchbacked old Cossacks of the convoy.

“Will they try us? What do you think?” one of the Yelanskaya Communists walking at Ivan’s side whispered.

“Not very likely. . . .”

“They’ll kill us?”

“I expect so.”

“But they don’t shoot their prisoners. The Cossacks said so. Don’t you remember?”

Ivan Alexeyevich was silent, but a spark of hope was kindled within him. “That’s true,” he thought. “They won’t dare shoot us. Their slogan was ‘Down with the Commune, with pillaging and shooting.’ They’ve not gone further than imprisoning, so the rumour goes. A whipping, and then prison. Well, that’s nothing to be frightened of. We’ll stay in prison until winter and then as soon as the Don freezes over, our fellows will drive out the Whites and set us free.”

The hope flared up like a spark, and it faded like a spark. “No, they’ll kill us. They’re as savage as devils. Good-bye, life! Ah, we didn’t take the right road! We ought to have fought them and had no pity on them. We shouldn’t have spared them, but cut them down to the roots.” He clenched his fists and shrugged his shoulders in impotent frenzy, and the next moment he stumbled, sent almost to the ground by a blow on the head from behind.

“What are you clenching your fists for, you swine?” the sergeant in charge of the convoy thundered at him, riding at him with his horse. He struck Ivan with his whip, raising a weal right across his face from the temple to the chin.

“Who are you knocking about? Hit me, Dad! He’s wounded, what are you hitting him for?” one of the Yelanskaya men asked with an entreating smile and a quiver in his voice. He stepped out of the crowd and stood squarely in front of Ivan.

“There’ll be enough for you too! Beat ‘em up, Cossacks! Beat the Communists!” the sergeant roared.

His whiplash came down so hard on the man’s thin shirt that the shreds of material shrivelled like leaves in a fire, and the dark blood poured from the cut, soaking the shirt. Panting with anger, the sergeant drove the prisoners on with his horse and began to ply his whip ruthlessly.

Again the lash descended on Ivan. Livid fires burned in his eyes, the earth swayed under his feet, and the green forest on the opposite bank of the river seemed to rock. He seized the stirrup and attempted to drag the sergeant out of his saddle, but a blow with the flat of a sword sent him headlong to the ground. Dry choking dust filled his mouth, and the scorching blood poured out of his nose and ears.

Driving them into a herd as though they were sheep, the escort beat them long and cruelly. Lying on the ground, Ivan, as though in a dream, heard shouts, the hollow tramp of feet around him, the frenzied snorting of the horses. A clot of warm horse’s froth fell on his bare head, and from somewhere, very close, right above him, came a terrible, spasmodic sobbing and a shout:

“Swine! God damn you! Beating defenceless men! You. . . .”

A horse trod on Ivan’s wounded leg, and the blunt points of the shoes pressed into the flesh of his calf, there was a rapid thud of blows above him. A moment later a wet, heavy body, smelling of sweat and the salty scent of blood, crumpled at his side, and Ivan heard the blood gurgling from the man’s throat like liquid out of a bottle.

When the Cossacks had finished beating them up, they drove them down to the river and made them wash their wounds. Standing knee-deep in the water, Ivan washed the burning cuts and bruises, and, cupping his hands, eagerly drank the water, afraid he would not have time to quench the thirst that rasped his throat.

As they approached the first village, a Cossack overtook them, riding his horse, spring-sleek and glossy with sweat, at a fast trot. He rode on into the village and hardly had the prisoners passed the first yard when a crowd, armed with forks, hoes, stakes, and crowbars, poured towards them. As soon as they saw the Cossacks and women, Ivan and the others realized that this was to be the manner of their death.

“Let’s say good-bye to one another, Comrades!” one of the Communists exclaimed.

After that first beating all that happened seemed to be incidents in a nightmarish dream. Twenty versts they were driven through village after village, greeted at each by crowds of tormentors. The old men, women, and elder children beat them, spat in their blood-stained and swollen faces, threw stones and clods of hard earth, cast dust and ashes into their eyes. The women were especially brutal, resorting to the most cruel and ingenious tortures. Towards the end the twenty-five men were almost unrecognizable as human beings, so monstrously disfigured were their bodies and faces, so covered were they with caking blue-black blood mingled with mud.
The mowers returned from the steppe next day. Pantelei decided to start carting in the hay after dinner. Dunya drove the bullocks down to the Don for water, and Ilyinichna and Natalya swiftly laid the table.

Darya came last to the table and sat down at the end. llyinichna set a small plate of cabbage soup before her, put a spoon and a piece of bread before her, and, as usual, poured the soup for the others into the one large, common bowl.

Pantelei stared at his wife in surprise, indicated Darya’s plate with his eyes, and asked:

“What’s all that? Why have you poured out her soup separate? Isn’t she any longer of our faith?”

“What ever do you want? Get on with your food!”

The old man gave Darya a humorous look and smiled. “Aha! I understand! Since she’s been given a medal she doesn’t want to eat out of the common dish. What’s the matter, Darya? Turning up your nose at supping out of the one bowl with us?”

“No, I’m not turning up my nose. I mustn’t,” Darya answered huskily.

“And why not?”

“My throat hurts.”

“Well, and what of it?”

“I went to Vyeshenskaya to see the doctor, and he said I was to eat out of a separate dish.”

“I had a sore throat once, but I didn’t keep away from everybody else, and, glory be, I didn’t give it to anybody else. So what sort of chill have you got?”

Darya turned pale, wiped her lips with her hand, and laid down her spoon. Angered by her husband’s tactlessness, Ilyinichna shouted at him:

“What are you plaguing the woman for? We get no peace from you even at the table! He sticks like a bur, and there’s no getting away from him!”

“But what’s all the fuss about?” Pantelei barked irritably. “For all I care, you can do what you like!”

In his annoyance he poured a spoonful of hot soup into his throat, burned himself, and, spitting out the soup all over his beard, roared madly:

“You don’t know how to serve up food properly, curse the lot of you! Who ever serves up soup straight from the fire?”

“If you were to talk less at the table the soup wouldn’t burn you,” Ilyinichna consoled him.

Dunya almost burst into laughter as she watched her father, his face a vivid purple, pick the cabbage and pieces of potato out of his beard. But everybody else was so straight-faced that she refrained and turned her eyes away, for fear of laughing at an awkward moment.
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Passionate and proud, Grigory Melekhov is at first attracted by the Communists' promises of social justice, but is repelled by their violent methods and finds himself embroiled in the Cossack campaign against them.

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