The story: This classic tale, also translated as “The Cloak”, is one of the most revered stories in Russian literature, but it’s also a ghost story. Akaky Akakievich is a poor clerk in a government office who is the butt of many jokes from his colleagues as much for his social ineptitude as for his threadbare overcoat. When he finally decides to get the overcoat mended, he runs into one problem after another, leading eventually to ghostly revenge.
Many of the themes that would be common to the greats of Russian literature trace their heritage to this story: the hopelessness of poverty, the striving to move up in a class-striated society, government indifference and arrogance, and injustice for the powerless. Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov would continue these themes in their own literature, building great works from common starting material.
Despite the heavy themes, this is a story with plenty of humor. Gogol even pokes fun at the conventions of storytelling by breaking the fourth wall. Part of the genius of this story is the tension between the listener’s tendency to sympathize with the plight of Akaky Akakievich or laugh at his awkwardness and eagerness to impress his colleagues.
The reader: This may be a free recording, but that doesn’t make Alan Davis Drake any less of a professional. His voice is smooth and expressive in his narration, bringing out the sometimes subtle humor in this piece. His intonations for the dialogue bring out the pattern of Russian speech without doing a broad accent. The short musical pieces at the beginning and end of each part do not distract from the reading and are not played over the narration.
Review by Seth, Free Listens blog