The Tartar Steppe

Number 29 on Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century. Dino Buzzati’s short novel unquestionably provides food for thought. Giovanni Drogo’s tour of duty at Fort Bastiani is an apt metaphor for the American Dream of go to work, send your kids to college, pay off your mortgage, then upon entering your sunset years…you get the cancer diagnosis.

The story is set at the aforementioned fortress, which guards the northern pass against a potential barbarian invasion. The young Lieutenant Drogo arrives and quickly surmises that this posting is a dead end for his military career and all the exertions of the fort’s inhabitants are pointless, as a barbarian has not been seen in these parts for generations. Expertly talked out of requesting an immediate transfer, Drogo falls in step with the fort’s rhythms, and the days, then soon the decades start to slip by.

You might be bored with the book, but you will be impressed by Buzzati’s impressions on life slipping through one’s fingers. If you care at all, go to the library and request the book, then read the last seven paragraphs of the book’s 6th Chapter. Got it? Then read the final chapter where you will hear again about the grey, monotonous sea that has been there since time immemorial. Carpe Diem…or else.


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