Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 194

Published in 1940, in the wake of two short novels which had attracted little attention, The Tartar Steppe was the book which brought Buzzati fame. It is the one which springs most immediately to the lips of critics and, in 1972, it was mentioned in Buzzati’s obituaries almost to the...

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Published in 1940, in the wake of two short novels which had attracted little attention, The Tartar Steppe was the book which brought Buzzati fame. It is the one which springs most immediately to the lips of critics and, in 1972, it was mentioned in Buzzati’s obituaries almost to the exclusion of his other works. The novel brought together, perfectly fused, all of his main themes: the passage of time, a human life wasted away in futile monotony, decay, isolation, and metaphysical angst. Of this book Buzzati himself said: “While I was writing it I understood that I should have gone on writing it for the duration of my existence and finished it only on the eve of my death.” He lacked that courage, however, and when his publisher asked him for a novel in March, 1939, Buzzati gave him the complete manuscript of The Tartar Steppe. Released as it was in 1940, it was seen by many as a premonition of war.

The Tartar Steppe is not only important in Buzzati’s career. One enthusiastic critic, in 1972, called it “one of the few great Italian chefs d’oeuvre...of this century”: an opinion not generally contested.

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