January 14th, 2011


Book Review: The Tartar Steppe, by Dino Buzzati

One-line summary: A young officer wastes his life waiting for greatness that never happens.


Goodreads: Average: 4.0. Mode: 5 stars.
Amazon: Average: 4.7. Mode: 5 stars.

Often likened to Kafka's "The Castle," "The Tartar Steppe" is both a scathing critique of military life and a meditation on the human thirst for glory. It tells of young Giovanni Drogo, who is posted to a distant fort overlooking the vast Tartar steppe. Although not intending to stay, Giovanni suddenly finds that years have passed, as, almost without his noticing, he has come to share the others' wait for a foreign invasion that never happens. Over time the fort is downgraded and Giovanni's ambitions fade—until the day the enemy begins massing on the desolate steppe...

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Verdict: Words that come to mind to describe this book: "bleak, desolate, bare, despairing, empty, pathetic, futile, farcical." It's not a fun or entertaining story, and certainly not an exciting one, but it's got a lot of meaning and the meaning isn't hidden beneath elaborate metaphors. The symbolism is right there on the surface, the message is practically spelled out for you. So if you're in the mood for a novel filled with existential pathos, this is about as light a read as you're going to find in that genre. Many other reviewers compare Buzzati to Kafka, a comparison I can't back up since I haven't read Kafka. I would say The Tartar Steppe reminded me somewhat of Catch-22, absent any spark of humor. Despite what may seem like a lot of negativity in my review, I would say it is worth reading, but not as a pleasure read, more like the sort of thing you'd read if you're in a very particular mood.

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