Monday, 9 January 2012

Book Review: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you don't recognize the name Fyodor Dostoevsky, he's the guy that wrote Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov and a bunch of others. I've heard of these, but haven't read them. Perhaps that is the problem...

This biography is written in a "conversational style" which means that instead of just telling the story of Fyodor's life, it tells of Fyodor sitting up all night reminiscing with his friend(s). Occasionally we are brought back from the stories to witness a cough, a refill, or a reminder from the wife that it's time for bed. The book covers Dostoevsky's life from early boyhood to his death, in snippets - some as short as 2 or 3 sentences. Then at the end of the book, we suddenly have 10 full pages of a single quote, presumably the entire text of a speech given at a Pushkin festival. I admit that I skimmed over this speech, expecting at any minute to return to what I viewed as the story.

I didn't notice any typos as such, but on page 147 the book says Fyodor published his diary for four years, and on the next page it says that he had to stop publishing after just two years. This was the only glaring error in the book.

Overall, I was disappointed and frustrated with this book. I suppose the author, Peter Leithart, is knowledgeable of his subject, but he didn't do a good job conveying that knowledge. I felt, as other reviewers have said, that I came away from the book not knowing anything about Dostoevsky.
Also, I was frustrated with Fyoder being held up as a great Christian thinker when he is presented as a gambling womanizer. Other than his insistence that Russian character is all one with Russian Orthodoxy, we hear very little of his theology, but we hear quite a lot about his infidelities.

To end on a positive note, I now have a much greater interest in reading some of Dostoevsky's work than I had before. So I suppose on that point the book was successful.


Wil said...

I own some of his books (digital copies) but have never read them. :-(

As for the "great Christian thinker" part; that doesn't seem a contradiction to me, since one's life often deviates from one's principles.

And thinking, theologizing (made up a word), philosophizing, theorizing, et cetera can be completely cerebral.

(For example, I can theorize that citizens would eventually be much better behaved if we were allowed to shoot anyone who bothered us, but I would never act on such a belief.)

MamaOlive said...

Thanks Wil. I guess it is more often than I care to admit that people don't live their convictions. Doesn't make it right.
But it's just as well we don't do everything we think of...