Sholokhov’s novel is a classic text used mainly in classrooms for book reports or for drawing parallels with the American nineteenth century antiwar novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895), by Stephen Crane. Like Crane, Sholokhov relies on realistic details and verifiable facts to capture the violence, brutality, and horror of civil war. Like Crane too, he uses a detached and distant narrative voice to give the reader a sense of looking in on events as they happen rather than of being told what someone else has seen. Like Vicente Blasco Ibáñez in Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis (1916; The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 1918), he deplores the nightmare of trench warfare and the impersonality of machine guns and airplanes compared to brave Cossacks with raised sabers atop fiery steeds. Like Leo Tolstoy in Voyna i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace, 1886), he provides sweeping panoramas and detailed descriptions of battles, intermingling them with peaceful scenes of prerevolutionary Russian life. Where Tolstoy focuses on the Russian nobility, however, Sholokhov spans classes and shows Cossack life at all levels for the first time.
This novel should be particularly appealing to young people because it was written when the author was barely twenty years old, and his perceptions of age and love are youthful. For example, the love of the twenty-year-old Aksinia for Gregor is described as a “late love,” and Natalia’s sixty-nine-year-old grandfather is depicted as being as old as time. Nevertheless, the author’s deep knowledge of history, his accurate depiction of historical events, and his realistic, credible characters confirm his maturity. Sholokhov lived most of his life among the Don Cossacks and grew up with eyewitnesses to the times and events that he describes; in a way, the people and families of his novel were a part of his personal life.
The full-length Russian original consists of four volumes, which were first translated into English as two separate novels: And Quiet Flows the Don and The Don Flows Home to the Sea (1940). Complete English translations were published as The Silent Don in 1942 and And Quiet Flows the Don in 1967.