Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol

I'm going with the one trick pony approach to blogging this week and reviewing a book from the collection I posted the giveaway for on Tuesday.  Oddly enough, I cracked open the Christmas books even before breaking out the Christmas music that I've diligently been avoiding despite my inclination to start listening to it a couple weeks ago.  I always peak too early with my Christmas music love, and by the time the holiday rolls around I'm kind of over it.  As for Christmas themed books?  It's probably never too early for a busy person who reads at a snail's pace to start reading them, so here I go!

First, another moment of honesty. This, of course, is one of the five Penguin Christmas Classics I was sent for review.  I may or may not have chosen this one at this early date because A.) it's the shortest (clocking in at a brief 65 pages) and B.) I kinda thought I wouldn't like it as much as the other ones.  I'd heard it's a little offbeat and not quite Christmassy enough for the Christmas club, if you know what I'm saying.  Neither thing that I'd heard is necessarily false, but in all actuality, I quite liked this short tale of Christmas Eve in a small village in Ukraine.

The day of Christmas Eve ended, and the night began, cold and clear.  The stars and the crescent moon shone brightly upon the Christian world, helping all the good folks welcome the birth of our Savior.  The cold grew sharper, yet the night was so quiet that one could hear the snow squeak under a traveler's boots from half a mile away. Caroling hadn't yet begun; village youths weren't yet crowded outside the windows waiting for treats; the moon alone peeked through, as though inviting the girls to finish up their toilette and run out onto the clean, sparkling snow.

Gogol's story opens on Christmas Eve with the scene of a witch and a devil who are up to no good.  The devil has in mind to foil the plans of devout local blacksmith, Vakula, to pay court to the village beauty, Oksana.  Oksana is as dreadfully vain as she is beautiful, and has chased off all her many suitors, mistreating them and playing hard to get, not to mention spending  more time with her mirror than with them.  Frustrated by the continual rebuffing of his advances, Vakula has nearly given up on Oksana and life itself, when he comes up with one last risky gambit to win her affections. 

I'll say no more for fear of giving away overmuch, but I was thoroughly charmed by Gogol's remote village where carolers traverse the town on a cold, crisp Christmas Eve, singing for treats from the townspeople.  Besides the witch and the devil and the unfortunate Vakula, the town is populated by a cadre of important men made laughable by their foibles, a crowd of fierce housewives, and gaggles of laughing girls.  Despite the less than traditional Christmas content, I found Gogol's story to be a delicious and humorous little folk tale of his own creation and a welcome departure from the Christmas norm.

If you'd like to read this book plus four more holiday classics from Penguin, the giveaway is open until Monday evening, so stop by the post and enter! 

(Disclaiming: Yes, I received this book for free from the publisher for review consideration.)

Do you have a favorite Christmas story to read around the holidays?

1 comment:

  1. I like all the predictable Christmas stories (A Christmas Carol etc), but one less-known one that I read every year is Rumer Godden's The Story of Holly and Ivy, an absolute dear of a book about an orphan girl who wants a grandmother and a doll. And like, I won't spoil it for you whether she gets them or not know. It's a Christmas book. You can probably guess.