________________ CM . . . . Volume V Number 18 . . . . May 7, 1999

cover Gogol's Coat.

Cary Fagan. Illustrated by Regolo Ricci.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 1999.
32 pp., cloth, $17.99.
ISBN 0-88776-429-0.

Subject Headings:
Coats-Juvenile fiction.
Theft-Juvenile fiction.
Dogs-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 1-4 / Ages 6-9.
Review by Valerie Nielsen.

***1/2 /4

Nicolai Gogol's short story masterpiece "The Overcoat" has been read and admired for 150 years. In Gogol's Coat, Cary Fagan has turned this tale of a civil servant in l9th century St. Petersburg, who spends his life savings on a new overcoat only to have it stolen on the first occasion he wears it, into a children's story. At the end of his book, the author notes that on first reading the famous short story "...I felt very sorry for this poor man, and for a long time I used to imagine how the ending might have been different." And so, in order to have the famous coat returned to its rightful owner, Fagan has re-written the story. In his rendition, the author turns Akaky the "...somewhat short, somewhat pockmarked, somewhat red-haired," middle-aged copy clerk of the original story, into a red-haired young alphabet copier named Gogol, a poor but talented boy whose pleasure in his work is marred by spiteful tricks played on him by a jealous fellow employee. Gogol lives in a drafty attic room with no companion but Rose, a stray dog who jumps through his window each morning to awaken him. With nothing but his tattered old overcoat to protect him from that cruel enemy of the poor, the "northern frost" of his city, Gogol finally decides he must take his coat to Levick, the tailor, to be repaired. Alas, as in the original story, the tailor tells him his coat is beyond repair, and that he must find the money to purchase a new one. Like Akaky, Gogol offers all his hard-earned savings for a new coat. The tailor brings his new overcoat to him on a morning so cold "...that the city was sheathed in ice. Even the hands on the clock tower had frozen." Levick has made a masterpiece; the coat fits perfectly, is sewn with double seams and has a silk lining on to which the tailor has stitched a red velvet letter "G". Gogol's joy in his new coat is short-lived, however, for it is stolen from him on his way home from a party. At this point, author Fagan veers sharply from the original. Instead of fruitless attempts to persuade various police authorities to search for his overcoat, as happens in poor Akaky's case, his ingenious hero, Gogol, with the help of the faithful Rose, is able to recover his beloved overcoat. inside picture

      Regolo Ricci's illustrations, done in rich, deep sepia-like tones are wonderfully detailed and merit close scrutiny, for they bring to life for the reader those details of time and place that are lacking in Fagan's text.

      There is no doubt that Fagan's ending is a good deal more satisfying than the original in which the protagonist dies and his ghost returns to St. Petersburg to strip overcoats from people's backs on the pretext of recovering his stolen property. Gogol's Coat is just the right length for a read-aloud to 7 to 10 year-olds. With its clever and engaging hero, its theme of hard work and resourcefulness rewarded, plus the special twist at the end of the story, the book is bound to delight young listeners.


Valerie Nielsen is a recently retired teacher-librarian who lives in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364