Fiction: The Overcoat by Nikolai Gogol

More than a century before Death of a Salesman or Glengarry Glen Ross there was Nikolai Gogol’s The Overcoat. Though just 64 pages, this seminal piece of Russian fiction has inspired countless authors. Fyodor Dostoyevsky himself is quoted as saying “We all come out from Gogol’s Overcoat.” Perhaps you’ll even remember the protagonist from Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake was named after Gogol. For a deeply powerful examination of human fragility and the essence of humanity, there is none more powerful than this book.

Set in St. Petersburg, it is the story of Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, who conscientiously goes about his government work while slowly becoming aware of the inadequacy of his threadbare overcoat. Unable to have it repaired, Akaky devotes himself singularly to saving the amount needed to have a new overcoat made. Yet with his goal finally attained, tragedy ensues.