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Booking Through Thursday | May I Introduce…

1. How did you come across your favorite author(s)? Recommended by a friend? Stumbled across at a bookstore? A book given to you as a gift?
2. Was it love at first sight? Or did the love affair evolve over a long acquaintance?


Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

My first edition of Booking Through Thursday in 2008 concerns a couple of my favorite authors. It goes way back to undergraduate study when I decided to enroll in a comparative literature course despite the demanding lab schedule of my major. Up to that point I have always been fascinated by certain landmark authors like Dostoevsky (Russia), Saramago (Portugal), and Dickens (England), to name a few. Growing up in then-colonized Hong Kong and was educated under the Brit system, I read a lot of Shakespeare and Dickens. But Dostoevsky appealed to me. My mentor at that time, a Catholic priest who has been living in Hong Kong for 15 years, recommended Crime and Punishment to me, which another 15 years later has laid the formation of my thesis! It wasn’t until I read The Brothers Karamazov did I truly fall in love with Dostoevsky.

Strict analysis of his character and actions in The Brothers Karamazov consists of psychological insights that penetration to such depths could have taken place even at the slightest amount of deliberate and malicious prejudice with regard to the person of the defendant. It’s under this point that Dostoevsky asserts man should not have the right to decide about the rest of the mankind, who is worthy to live and who is more unworthy. This evokes the theme in Crime and Punishment and the obscure Notes from Underground, his final judgment of mankind.

Crime and Punishment was written when he was at the zenith of his power. His remaining works exhibit frequently a marvelous tragic and analytic power, but they are unequal, and deficient in measure and in balance, except for his final novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Spiritually speaking, Dostoevsky worked on The Brothers Karamazov his entire life. The novel is one artistic embodiment riddled with everything he experienced, thought, and created. The central theme is a familiar motif: the conflict between faith and disbelief. This conflict is most accentuated by the personality duality of Ivan Karamazov and his dreamy encounter with the devil. The novel is a cumulation of Dostoevsky’s life that in the topography of which his memories of childhood are united with the impressions of his final years.

2 Responses

  1. An engrossing post, notably for its depth and for the sharing of insights garnered over a long period of time. I’m delighted to see that you have returned to the subject of Dostoevsky, and hope you do do in future. I recently read some comments on this author by Vladimir Nabokov which rather dissapointed me. While there is always a delightful play of mind in V. N’s commentaries, in view of your own remarks, I think some of the more important elements of this author’s oeuvre may have eluded him–at least in the pages I happened to read. The one book I’m familiar with, THE BROTHERS KARAMOZOV, Nabokov treats mainly as a kind of flawed detective fiction–and that seems to me to be it’s least interesting element. As you have pointed out, the book is really a psychological novel with important philosophical, ethical questions at its core. The detective story is a structure device that overlays that. So I’m glad to have had access to your own thoughts, via your blog; as your own concerns with the book’s spiritual and philosophical kernel, your probing for its deeper truths, encouraged me to return to this elusive but powerful novel.

  2. Greg S:
    Dostoevsky will be the focus for this year since I have joined the Russian reading Challenge. I plan to read something by him that I haven’t read before, like The Adolescent and some short stories. The class I TA this term will also read The brothers Karamazov. It’s too bad that Nabakov has overlooked the philosophical analysis and religious theme of the work. It’s most important of all a cumulation of Dostoevsky’s life.

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