The Soviet novelist Mikhail Aleksandrovich Sholokhov (1905-1984) won an international reputation for an epic novel, "The Silent Don," dealing with his native Don Cossack land. Sholokhov won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1965.
Mikhail Sholokhov was born on May 24, 1905, in a village in the Don Cossack region of Russia. His mother was a peasant, and his father came from the middle classes. Sholokhov's education was interrupted by the civil war, in which he served as a member of a Red grain-requisitioning detachment. He then went to Moscow, where he joined a group of young proletarian writers, supporting himself as a manual laborer. However, he soon returned to his native region, where he lived the rest of his life.
Sholokhov's first works were sketches and stories of the civil war, collected in 1925 as Tales of the Don. Thereafter he continued to write short stories. In 1928 the first installments of his epic novel, The Silent Don, appeared, and this work established his reputation. Its final installment appeared in 1940.
The Silent Donis a panoramic novel based on the life of the Don Cossacks before, during, and after the Revolution. Its hero, Grigory Melekhov, a Cossack peasant, is a natural leader with a fiery spirit of independence and a strong sense of decency and justice. In World War I he fights valiantly against the Germans. Confused by the events and issues of the Revolution and civil war, he fights at first on the White side, then with the Reds, and finally joins a band of Cossack nationalist guerrillas fighting the Reds. After 7 years of conflict, Grigory is morally exhausted. His plight, similar to that of millions of Russians during those years, is shown so poignantly that he has become the most popular tragic hero of Soviet literature. A passionate and violent tale that profoundly depicts the connection between man and his physical surroundings, The Silent Don ranks as the greatest epic novel of Soviet literature.
Sholokhov interrupted his work on The Silent Don to begin another large novel, Virgin Soil Upturned, the first volume of which appeared in 1932. Also set in the Don Cossack region, it deals with the violent social upheavals caused by the forced collectivization of agriculture in the 1930s. The second volume of this novel was published in 1960.
Sholokhov's third important novel concerns World War II. Entitled They Fought for Their Country, it has been published only in chapters and remains unfinished. Sholokhov also published one excellent story about World War II, "The Fate of a Man" (1957).
Sholokhov received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1965. A longtime Communist, he was a member of the Supreme Soviet for many years and received countless official honors.
The Silent Don was published in English in two volumes: And Quiet Flows the Don (1935) and The Don Flows Home to the Sea (1941). Virgin Soil Upturned (1957) also appears in two volumes: Seeds of Tomorrow (1935) and Harvest on the Don (1960). Studies of Sholokhov in English include: Lev Grigorevich Iakimenko, Sholokhov: A Critical Appreciation (1973), C. G. Bearne, Sholokhov (1969) and D. H. Stewart, Mikhail Sholokhov: A Critical Introduction (1967). Extensive studies of Sholokhov are also in the following works: Gleb Struve, Soviet Russian Literature, 1917-1950 (1951); Ernest J. Simmons, Russian Fiction and Soviet Ideology (1958); Helen Muchnic, From Gorky to Pasternak (1961); and Edward J. Brown, Russian Literature since the Revolution (1969).