Ben Winch's Reviews > The Tartar Steppe

The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati
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's review
Jun 06, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: mainland-european, italian

The first time I read this I liked it a lot. I didn’t quite love it, but then I was at a period in my life where it would have been hard for me to love (or at least to notice whether I had loved) anything, so great was my absorption in my own distress. Yet in that context, The Tartar Steppe made an impression. It may even have benefited from that context, given that I, like its protagonist, was all but consumed by waiting. The dreamlike feel, the mountain setting, the debt to Kafka, the meditative pace – all led me to believe that this might be, if read in another state of mind, a favourite.

Well, I reread it a month or two ago and I was disappointed. Yes, the dream-feel is great, at times, and the descriptions of the mountains are thrilling. For the first few chapters I thought, ‘A classic!’ But by its end I found it heavy-handed, contrived, somewhat wooden and dead. It’s one of those books that seems to be about what its author takes it to be about, but in fact could be about something else entirely. It’s hemmed in, stunted, made to grow only in the direction Buzzati allows it to grow. At times it takes flight, almost despite itself. And I like it. But I don’t love it. And I so easily could have.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I like the idea that this book might have a parallel existence other than the one the author intends. It underlines the magic of the enormous potential packed inside the covers of books.

message 2: by Ben (last edited Oct 13, 2013 06:26PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Winch Y'know, I'd say a lot of (if not most, if not all!) books have that parallel existence. Borges cautioned against books that try to exhaust their own possibilities, but I'd say all books are somewhere on that continuum between narrowness and girth.

message 3: by Zadignose (last edited Apr 19, 2015 04:08AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Zadignose I'm rereading and having a bit of a comedown from my first impression. I think your comments are all on target, though I may still find it redeems itself. It's certainly a good book, so the question is just a matter of degree. Buzatti may suffer in our estimation for being nearly great.

message 4: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Winch Yeah it's a good book, but a frustrating one. It's not just that it's nearly great, but the way in which it's nearly great. That is, it's damn near flawless, but only half alive. A living mess would be preferable.

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