‘The Tartar Steppe’ by Dino Buzzati – Waiting, A Soldier’s Life


‘The Tartar Steppe’ by Dino Buzzati    (1940) – 198 pages            Translated from the Italian by Stuart Hood

‘The Tartar Steppe’ follows the life of a young soldier in such a clear and precise manner that it is as though it were etched in stone rather than written.

When Giovanni Drogo first arrives at the remote Fort Bastiani, he misses the excitement and color of the city, the bars and the young women. On his way to the fort he meets a Captain Ortiz who has been there who gives him some advice.

Watch out,” he said, “you will let them convince you, you’ll end up by staying here too, I have only to look into your eyes.”

Drogo wonders if he should just leave this drab military fort immediately. But then he agrees to sign up for just four months. But the monotonous regularity of military life somehow grows on him, and after four months he decides to stay on for two more years.

The men at the fort are waiting for their enemy, the Tartars, to make an advance toward them. I had to look up who the Tartars were and found they are a semi-nomadic ethnic group that comes from a Russian place called Tatarstan which is about 100 miles east of Moscow.

Before he knows it, thirty years have passed, and Drogo is still at the fort. A couple of times over the years it has appeared that the Tartars were staging an attack.

Never before had the orderlies run up the stairs so quickly, never had the uniforms been so tidy, the bayonets so gleaming, the bugle calls so military. So they had not waited in vain; the years had not been wasted; the old Fort would, after all, be of some use.”

But these indications of activity by the Tartars turn out to be false alarms.

As the decades pass with Drogo and his fellow soldiers waiting for an enemy who never surfaces, his old friends in the city meanwhile have married, had children, and led full lives.

One after another the pages turned – the grey pages of the days, the black pages of the nights, and both Drogo and Ortiz (and perhaps some of the other senior officers) felt a growing anxiety that they might no longer have enough time left.”

‘The Tartar Steppe’ is about a soldier’s life, but its theme of time passing is universal. Life happened while we were waiting, and the years and decades went by before we knew it.

Previously I have read two other excellent books by Dino Buzzati, the graphic novel ‘Poem Strip’ and the children’s story ‘The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily’. This guy Buzzati was multi-talented.


Grade:    A



4 responses to this post.

  1. I like the sound of this…

    Liked by 1 person


  2. I’m very keen to read this – he sounds like a very individual author, which is what I like!

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi kaggsy,
      Yes, he was an artist as much as a writer. For his children’s book and his graphic novel, he did the artwork.
      According to wikipedia, Dino Buzzati is highly regarded in France but little known in English.

      Liked by 1 person


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