Mikhail Sholokhov’s style in And Quiet Flows the Don is personal and inventive, with neologisms and other created words and images in Russian that are lost in translation, folk songs, prayers, and sayings, and a variety of dialects, including Cossack words related to unique objects and concepts of Cossack life. Metaphor dominates, even more than in the English translation, with recurring imagery that focuses on the natural, the animalistic, and the simple, commonplace farm and village experience. Characters and landscapes are like wolves, caterpillars, ants, and serpents. One man chews his lip like a horse; another crows like a cock as he repeats the same old story. The czar is a horseradish, and the mist crawls “into the cliff like a grey, headless serpent.” Aksinia is “like rain in autumn—one continual drizzle,” and her thoughts drive away sleep “as wind does a haycock.” The Don yawns, swallows, and lashes into fury. The personification of the Don and the recurring descriptions of its moods and seasons indicate that river’s symbolic significance in the novel. The title sums up the essential argument that humans come and go but nature endures. It also captures the irony of the times, for the “quiet Don” is as far from quiet as the civil turbulence that envelopes the inhabitants along its banks.

The absence of authorial interruptions editorializing and lecturing readers on how to interpret characters and events requires a...

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