Gogol’s Dead Souls is a curious read for a westerner. It is chock full of detailed information about country life in Russian in the nineteenth century. Without a set of notes some of the information detailed will be lost, since the story involves the time and place bound manor life, serf relations, and Russian Imperial bureaucracy.
The central theme of the novel, of buying ‘dead souls’ carries the story for the first half of the book; the second half, never completed by Gogol, is almost unreadable, and does nothing to compliment the first.
So, reading Dead Souls is like picking from a grab bag. You get a great deal of humorous, heavy duty irony, as well as boldly drawn, satirical characters. But the novel does not go anywhere specifically. You pick up useless pieces as well. Oddly, one of Russia’s greatest novels is unfinished and incomplete.