This is a very early work by Gogol'.
He was just 22 and already very brilliant when wrote these two books of Ukrainian tales now recollected in a single edition.
Apparently these "Village Evenings Near Dikanka and Mirgorod" don't have that much to share with most of the following production by this author, but still they show several characteristics of his talent and genius.
Gogol' sense of humour here was more direct and popularesque, tied to the tradition of oral tales while later became bitter and melancholic with the combination of daily life and sophisticated influences.
The sense of fantastic, supernatural, the counterposition (and the intersections) between evil and faith make these tales extremely enjoyable and worth of being re-read many times.
The interesting process behind this collection of short stories is not only its very clever frame and structure, but the way Gogol' had of searching, exploring, discovering old Ukrainian traditions and tales, asking many details even to his mum via post. The whole description of a traditional Ukrainian marriage you can find in one of these short stories looks like taken from one of those mother-son letters.
A few of these short stories are a bit hard too follow, because of their absurdity, but most of them are great. I guess how you have to be very curious about Ukrainian past and traditions to appreciate more what Gogol' did.
Who loved "Master and Margarita" will be surprised of finding here a fantastic flight from Ukraine to Saint Petersburg that looks like an anticipation of what Bulgakov later wrote flying over Moscow by night.
This is tagged as a "Russian book" but is definitely about Ukraine. There is a big sense of distance and suspect towards all the Russian people and particularly Moscovites seen by the Dikanka folks as evil creatures closer to demons than to human beings. The same may be said for the way Poles and "Germans" (actually meaning people coming from the rest of Europe) are referred to.
It's clear how Gogol' had a lot of fun in putting on paper these popular prejudices giving an authentic voice to his Ukraininan microcosm.
"Village Evenings Near Dikanka and Mirgorod" is a very good book to read especially during wintertime and in the Christmas days. Just make sure to have some traditional honeymade Ukrainian sweets around. Panko the beekeeper would appreciate your kindness so much.