I have a big soft spot for Russian literature. My first foray was with Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. What I remember most about the novel is how difficult it was for my then fifteen year old self to get through. I hated the novel much more than I loved it. But when I was done, I was struck by the beauty and elegance of the novel. The themes were so sweeping and universal. My next Dostoevsky novel was Crime and Punishment which, while retaining the same beauty and universality of theme, I enjoyed reading so much more. My final Dostoevsky was The Brothers Karamazov. That one I read primarily on a flight to Paris and the exhaustion of the flight probably killed that book for me. Nonetheless, I still consider Dostoevsky one of my favorite authors, though I confess I haven’t attempted to reread any of them, they still loom large in my memory.
I think what I like most about Dostoesvky is the care and attention he takes with his characters. He builds up his microcosms of Russian society so delicately that at times it seems like he’s describing the goings-ons of a real family, rather than an imaginary one. The most stirring complexity of the work is the names. As a non-Russian reader, the names and shifts in names get confusing. And I’m not saying I know enough about patronymics to speak to this, but the care that he takes sorting out the names of every character is admirable. I mean in all honesty, if you’re writing a 600 page book, are you really going to bother figuring out all the different nicknames certain characters use for a given character? I wouldn’t. Given name, family name, nickname, done.
He is also deft with the symbolism. Especially in The Idiot which you need only to look at the cover to know is rampant with Christ references. But the symbolism is always subtle and provides the reader with so much to unpack upon contemplation. Crime and Punishment, probably the best known of his work, needs no real introduction from me except to say that there’s a reason it frequently finds its way onto High School Reading Lists (you know, the non-compulsory kind, since I’m pretty sure this book has long occupied a spot on the Banned-Book list): Crime and Punishment is fairly easy to read and even easier to turn into the subject of an essay.
Whenever someone asks what my favorite books are, a Dostoevsky inevitably springs directly to the forefront of my mind. Like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky was one of the greatest authors of his age. And like Tolstoy, he is one amazing author worth reading.
Book Blogger Thoughts:
Crime and Punishment at Eli Bendersky
The Idiot at Books Without Any Pictures
The Brothers Karamazov at Boomers and Books