(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Germans still carry off flour, butter, and cattle. Every day their trucks roll from the Don through the Ukraine. Various sections of Russia, however, are fighting one another. To the north of the Don Basin, the White Army is driving back the Bolsheviks. Most of the Cossacks are in the White forces, although some are with the Reds.

Gregor and Piotra Melekhov are leaders in the White Army. Piotra, the elder brother, is decidedly anti-Red and wages battle viciously. Gregor is of two minds; perhaps the Reds will bring stable government. Gregor is opposed to pillaging civilians and killing prisoners. As best he can, he keeps his men in hand. When his father and his sister-in-law Daria visit him at the front, he is furious when they take home a wagon load of loot.

In Tatarsk, the Whites are trying to win over the Cossacks to full support of the insurgent cause. In the spring of 1918 there was a great defection of northern Cossacks to the Reds, and the southern Cossacks are only halfhearted in throwing back the Red tide. Koshevoi, a Red sympathizer, is caught when he returns to his home in Tatarsk. His companions are killed, but he is released to join the drovers in the steppes.

Eugene Listnitsky, a rich Cossack from the district, spends a furlough with a brother officer. Eugene is attracted to Olga, the man’s wife. After the officer is killed, Listnitsky marries the widow. When he gets home, Aksinia, a woman with a missing arm—and his former mistress—is still there, waiting for him. Eugene wants nothing more to do with her after his marriage. He makes love to her briefly under a currant bush and offers her money to go away. Aksinia is pained but stays. Her husband, Stepan, miraculously alive after years in prison, tries in vain to get her to come home.

Gradually the Cossacks return home; as farmers, they have to till the land. The advancing Red Army passes through the village of Tatarsk. After them comes the political men, and the Red government takes charge. Gregor is glad to be home but has little longing now for Aksinia, who was his mistress before she became Eugene’s. After years of fighting Germans and Reds, he is content to be a little reconciled to Natalia, his wife.

Koshevoi is put in charge of the government of Tatarsk, and soon Stockman, a professional Red, comes to help him. In order to consolidate their power, they begin, gradually, seizing a man here and there and spiriting him off to death or imprisonment. They want to arrest Piotra and Gregor. A little afraid to take Piotra, who is friendly with Fomin, a Red commander, they decide to take Gregor. Learning of their intentions in time, Gregor leaves Tatarsk and escapes.

As the political imprisonments and executions increase, the Cossacks revolt. The wrongs they suffered at the hands of the Reds are so great and so many that in a comparatively short time the rebellion is succeeding. Piotra is made a commander immediately....

(The entire section is 1210 words.)