Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fyodor Dostoevsky by Peter Leithart

 Fyodor Dostoevsky by Peter Leithart is another biography in the Christian Encounter Series published by Thomas Nelson. Since Dostoevsky is one of my favorite authors I eagerly looked forward to reading this book.

Leithart takes a different approach than the other authors of the Christian Encounter biographies in that instead of merely chronicling the life of one of the greatest writers in-not only Russian history but the world, he writes in story form in a style reminiscent of Dostoevsky's own writing. We find out about the events in Dostoevsky's life as the author himself recounts it to his friend, Maikov, over cigarettes and vodka at home while his third wife, Anna, carefully attends to her beloved husband's needs.

It is through the “voice” of Dostoevsky that we learn of his strict upbringing with a disciplinarian father tempered by a loving mother, his personal contact with serfs that would affect his sympathy with their plight. We hear him tell his friend about his work with the socialists, his subsequent imprisonment in Siberian labor camps and his near- execution that was called off at the last second. We learn of his conversion to Christianity because of the devotion of a wife of one of the other prisoners who chose to share in her husband's punishment rather than be separated from him.

As Dostoevsky tells Maikov about the women he loved, his fellow prisoners, the socialists, and the demons that tore at his soul as he strove to overcome his own sinful nature only to fall at the feet of Christ begging for mercy, we gain an insight to the ideas and characters that make up the colorful and exciting novels that this tormented man wrote.

When I read a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky, I feel as though I'm stepping into a whirlwind. Now I understand it is because this emotional, unstable, epileptic man's life was a whirlwind all the way down to his untimely death at the age of fifty-nine.

Anna woke to find Fyodor staring at her.
“Light a candle, Anna, and hand me the New Testament. I have been lying here awake for three hours now, and only now I have clearly realized that I shall die today.”
She brought him the Testament he had received from Natalya Fonvizina in Siberia. He opened it and read the first passage that appeared to his eye. It was Matthew 13:14-15: 'And Jesus said to John, Delay not, for thus it becomes us to fulfill the great truth.'
“Do you hear, Anna? Delay not?! That means I must die.”
….Anna held his hand and felt his pulse get feebler and feebler. By the time the doctor arrived, Fyodor Dostoevsky was already dead.
Anna was hysterical. “O, whom have I lost! Whom have I lost!”
Involuntarily Maikov broke out, “Whom has Russia lost! Whom has Russia lost!” (pg. 174, 175 the Epilogue)

If you are a fan of this influential Russian author's work. This book is an excellent resource.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Janette Fuller, M.Ed. said...

I have never read a novel by Dostoevsky, but this biography sounds very interesting. Thanks for a fine review, Sharon.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I have read "The Idiot" and really liked it. I've read several authors besides Dostoevsky (Tolstoy, Poe) who make it clear through their writing of their suffering.

Who knows, maybe that's the price of genius?

Sharon Wilfong said...

Man of la Book: I do believe that geniuses see the world through a different lens than our own which isolates them from the rest of society.
In retrospect I think I should have listed some of Dostoevsky's novels and briefly summarized them. I may do that later.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Janette: As I wrote in my previous response to Man of la Book, I think I need to list some of his novels with a brief synopsis so people can better appreciate who this brilliant writer is.