Marty Reeder's Reviews > The Tartar Steppe

The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati
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's review
Mar 18, 2008

liked it
bookshelves: acquired, hallway-space-filler-bookshelf
Read in February, 2010

This is the type of book that a trendy, self-satisfied literature teacher would assign his or her students. And if it had been assigned to me under those conditions, I would have absolutely hated it. As it turns out, I am not a student anymore; I am the teacher. In fact, some might consider me the trendy, self-satisfied type. Because of this, I ended up vaguely enjoying this book. I don't love it. I will never seek to read it again. But if it got thrown onto me, I wouldn't consider it a punishment to revisit it. I wouldn't assign it to my students, if only because they would hate it in spite of my battles to produce a different effect from them. But I certainly wouldn't steer people away from it either. I would cautiously recommend it to them, warning them, of course, that it is one of those books that trendy, self-satisfied literature teachers like.

Buzzati is, undoubtedly, a terrific writer. He has neat ideas, and he presents them subtly, easily, and you find that the reading is gripping, even if the storyline is not. I think what I like most about his writing is that, even though he is writing a story that is really an allegory, he is not precocious about it at all. Nor does he allow his message to take precedence over his characters (a common, irritating, effect of many allegorical writers). The Tartar Steppe, while a means to an end, isn't an offensive means. It's tragically endearing and it works pretty well on its own, without the allegory behind it.

As far as the ultimate meaning, I think the blurb on the back cover got it wrong (an indictment on the military state), or if Buzzati really meant it that way, then he made some errors, which I would be happy to discuss with anyone who is interested. No, I think the most fitting interpretation is a snapshot of life in general. I would discuss that more, but ... well, as well written as the book is, I'm really not that interested in discussing it further. And I think that sums up my experience.
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