The Tartar Steppe  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Tartar Steppe (Il deserto dei Tartari, literally The Desert of the Tartars) is a novel by Italian author Dino Buzzati, published in 1940. The novel tells the story of a young officer, Giovanni Drogo, and his life spent guarding the Bastiani Fortress, an old, unmaintained border fortress. The English translation was done by Stuart C. Hood.



The plot of the novel is Drogo's lifelong wait for a great war in which his life and the existence of the fort can prove its usefulness. The human need for giving life meaning and the soldier's desire for glory are themes in the novel. Drogo is posted to the remote outpost overlooking a desolate Tartar desert; he spends his career waiting for the barbarian horde rumored to live beyond the desert. Without noticing, Drogo finds that in his watch over the fort he has let years and decades pass and that, while his old friends in the city have had children, married, and lived full lives, he has come away with nothing except solidarity with his fellow soldiers in their long, patient vigil. When the attack by the Tartars finally arrives, Drogo gets ill and the new chieftain of the fortress dismisses him. Drogo, on his way back home, dies lonely in an inn.


In 1976 the novel was adapted into an homonymous film (known in English as The Desert of the Tartars) by Italian director Valerio Zurlini and starring Jacques Perrin as Drogo with Max von Sydow as Ortiz and Vittorio Gassman as Filimore. The film omits certain parts of the novel, especially those relating to the lives of Drogo's friends in his home town.


The novel was a major influence on South African-born writer J. M. Coetzee's 1980 novel Waiting for the Barbarians, the title of which is borrowed from Constantine P. Cavafy's poem of the same name.

The novel is described as the favorite book of the author of The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb uses the protagonist of The Tartar Steppe to describe our human nature to anchor.

This book was influential in developing and promoting the literary style known as magic realism.

See also

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