Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842)
When Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov arrives in town he seems like a perfect gentleman, but when he starts inquiring about the purchase of dead souls - deceased peasants who are still counted on the national tax census - the entire town is forced to wonder who this charming man is, and what his goals really are.
This book is less of a NOVEL with a PLOT and more of a COMIC PASTICHE OF RUSSIAN LIFE IN THE 19TH CENTURY.
It is silly, and goofy and one might even say... zainy. What I really love about this book, though, is that although the characters are cartoonish and goofy, they are still well rounded. The author is poking fun at them, but it comes from a place of love rather than anger. The result is characters that are funny but that are still allowed to be real people. We see ourselves in these characters, and our friends, and our relatives. This adds to the comedy, but also allows us to relate to them, and learn from them. Which is pretty cool considering they were written 200 years ago.
AN INTERESTING NOTE: This book is in two volumes, but Gogol never actually finished volume 2. So, as it is published, the second volume is just a cobbled together jumble of his drafts that sort of trails off without any real conclusion.