Sunday, July 27, 2008

Great Authors: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Books, like music, can transport you through place and time, expand your knowledge, and in the best cases evoke powerful profound thought and/or powerful emotions. This places literature firmly under the penumbra of Life's More Real and its expertise in all things that make life good. (ha!)

This trip has afforded me plenty of time to read. A quick run-through of what I've read, all recommended:
  • The Normals by David Gilbert. A quirky, fun read about people who volunteer for medical tests.
  • The Piano Tuner* by Daniel Mason. One of the most stirring and beautiful books I've read in a long time. Based in 19th century Burma, it explores the British occupation and one officer's quest to pacify the region through music and culture rather than war. The parallels to the Iraq occupation are striking.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. A true tale about a New York City author's experience living in Savannah, Georgia. Sheds interesting light on the dynamics of power, money, sex, and heritage among the Southern aristocracy. Revolves around the murder trial of Jim Williams. Many of the events and characters in the book are so outlandish, the fact it's a true story makes it even more enjoyable.

Right now I'm reading the Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was a Russian writer in the 19th century, a contemporary of Dickens, and my personal favorite author. You probably read Crime and Punishment in high school.

His writing reflects the social upheaval that marked the 1800's. Freud, Mark, and Darwin were challenging assumptions about man's place in nature, society, the afterlife, and his own mind. Intellectual and radical movements; socialism, communism, atheism, and all other kinds of -isms, were sprouting up around the world challenging kings and Church. In his writing, Dostoevsky tries to answer, or at least explore those questions in his writing. And those big questions are still relevant today: is there a God? Why is there suffering in the world? What is good? What is evil?

Dostoevsky is remarkable to me, however, in the way he captures all of the little impulses, urges, thoughts and emotions that motivate people to act the way they do. More than any other author I've read he details that finer, more difficult part of human nature that makes, despite our gifts of reasoning and intellect, so irrational at times. It's hard to see a bit of yourself in it.

So if you haven’t read him check it out. Crime and Punishment is a good place to start. The Idiot is the best book I've ever read. Be warned though, his books can be VERY slow at first. To paraphrase something I once read, "Reading Dostoevsky is like preparing a gourmet meal. It takes a long time, but in the end it's worth it.

Your thoughts and comments are very much appreciated!

*For some reason I can no longer link. Sorry!

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