Monday, December 27, 2010

Premature Book Review: The Tartar Steppe (Dino Buzzati, 1940)

This is my second book by Italian author Dino Buzzati. The first was The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily, which I partly read because Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) wrote an introduction. It was an interesting little book, similar to Animal Farm, in that the animals fought man's evil but then became like him.

The Tartar Steppe is the story of a newly commissioned officer, Lt. Giovanni Drogo, who is assigned duty at the remote Fort Bastianni. It is so remote that the people he passes along the way have never heard of it. Once Drogo arrives, he learns how truly isolated it is, having no town or amusements nearby, also he finds that no one is assigned a post there without requesting one. It is such a hardship assignment that the normal two years of duty counts as four in order to lure candidates in. He also learns that the place is completely unnecessary, as it protects a border on a desert that has never been crossed.

I find it very interesting on a few points. One, it has a creepiness to it, despite not being a horror or ghost story. The men of the fort seem to have a "village of the damned" quality, or are perhaps like the lotus eaters, yet not as happy. Also, with my being around the military, Drogo is put off by the inflexibility shown when it comes to adherence to regulation; even when danger might present itself regulation is the rule of the day. I see quite a lot of this rather senseless fixation to rules in the old retirees I work with, and while it is not of the extreme that Drogo encounters it is clear that Buzzati knows military men; particularly the career type.

Buzzati's style is quite nice. He is a journalist by trade, so typically his prose gets to the point. Chapters are rather short and his descriptions are vivid. You can see through Drogo's eyes, particularly in passages detailing his travels to the fort. Though I am not far into the book, it is compelling, and the reader feels Drogo's sense of hopelessness. I feel this will be the type book I will read numerous times over the coming years, and highly recommend it.


moviesandsongs365 said...

I am intrigued by your write-up, may give this book a go, if I can find it in English ( :

Darius Whiteplume said...

Glad you liked the write up. The copy I have is in English. It seems to be a pretty good translation, done by Stuart C. Hood.

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