Dublin Unitarian Book Club’s choice for July 2020.

Comments from the book club on


Our book club choice for July presented us with another challenging read and provoked a variety of reactions. Consequently we had a very interesting meeting, with what the politicians might describe as a lively exchange of views. These ranged from a couple of outright refusals to finish the book at all, to appreciation of Sholokov's accounts of Cossack life and the part played by the Don Cossacks before, during and after the Russian Revolution. Sholokov was born in the land of the Cossacks so his descriptions of village life are presumably authentic, and to me those were the most interesting parts of the book. I enjoyed learning about a part of the world of which I knew nothing, and the descriptions of the River Don are lovely. So are the constant references to farm life and the passing of the seasons and these go some way to mitigate the seemingly endless episodes of violence and slaughter. I didn't find any of the principal characters particularly engaging, but some of the minor ones were well drawn and they are the ones I shall remember. The later parts of the book become disjointed and make it hard to follow what was happening; some central characters more or less disappear and others emerge to take their place. Some of these are the mouthpieces for the political idealism that influenced the Revolution and the subsequent turmoil; here the book becomes overtly political and the emphasis shifts from the story of the Cossacks to the story of Russia itself, and in my view the novel suffers as a result.

Jennifer Flegg

The Cossacks in this epic story live in the village of Tatarsk on the banks of the river Don in Southern Russia. The river Don is the only quiet part in this novel and it is the beautiful descriptions of nature and the Steppes through the seasons that gives the reader some respite from the turbulent and hard lives of the people in the book.
          The novel has four parts, Peace, War, Revolution and Civil War. In the first part ‘Peace’ , which was anything but peaceful, depicted is a rural community of 100 years ago where domestic abuse and violence, cruelty and arranged marriages are accepted as part of life. It was not all doom and gloom though as there were also wonderful descriptions of their farming life through the seasons. Their traditions and importance of family and their love of homeland and the Tzar and especially the River Don is palpable.
          Every human characteristic, emotion, frailty and strength is represented by Sholokhov in the many characters and their relationships and interactions with each other. There is love and hate, fear and envy, duty, lust, sexuality, adultery, betrayal, loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, forgiveness. The darker side of the human character and what we can all be capable of is explored in all parts of the book.
          In ‘War’, ‘Revolution’ and ‘Civil War’ we are left in no doubt that war is abominable on all sides and that those who survive it are left scarred and damaged for life. The Cossack way of life was ended from then on. I felt sad at the end of the book as history tells us that life was not going to be kind to these people as they faced a future of totalitarianism, dictatorship and a programme of ‘Decossackification’ under Stalin. But that’s another story.

Alison Claffey

A tedious, overly descriptive, over long novel on the Russian Revolution and the period leading up to it from a Cossack point of view. Extremely violent, with sickening and often gory descriptions of wife-beating, fighting, executions and killing. Unclear and confusing regarding the part played by the various factions of White, Red, Bolshevik and Cossack in the Revolution. Long tracts of Communist propaganda. Scarcely a single character to like or identify with. I can scarcely remember enjoying a book less.

Gerry Shanahan