Often likened to Kafka’s The Castle, The Tartar Steppe is both a scathing critique of military life and a meditation on the human thirst for glory. It tells of young Giovanni Drogo, who is posted to a distant fort overlooking the vast Tartar steppe. Although not intending to stay, Giovanni suddenly finds that years have passed, as, almost without his noticing, he has come to share the others’ wait for a foreign invasion that never happens. Over time the fort is downgraded and Giovanni’s ambitions fade—until the day the enemy begins massing on the desolate steppe…
A sober and luminous novel about a man who waits his whole life for his life to start. You read it and then you want to run out and act.
—Yann Martel, author of The Life of Pi
Undoubtedly a masterpiece . . . [Buzzati] has brought to life a universal man and cast his being in surrounding which are familiar to us all . . . it is a sublime book and Buzzati a master of the written word.
Buzzati’s take on military matters is ambiguous. He makes much of the elaborate system of passwords at the fort — a system that leads to one officer’s death — or the coded music of bugle calls, as well as the way in which time itself is stratified and subdivided. . . But if this is satire, it’s a satire on us all, conscripted to the fortress of our expectations, hoping by secret signals and the solace of routine to push time back from the battlements, even as they crumble.
—Eric Ormsby, NY Sun