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Reading the Classics: Back in the Land of Tsars and Vodka!

Knowing that I’d basically be taking a month off from blogging about my Classics Reading Project during our library’s move to its temporary location, I knew I had plenty of time to read. And what better to fill that stretch with than another doorstop of a classic of Russian Lit? So it was that I picked up a copy of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky…not exactly the cinderblock-sized book that is War & Peace (the Russian Literature that got me started with this whole Reading the Classics thing). But I was also under the impression that, while shorter than War & Peace’s 1300+ pages, Dostoevsky’s 630 page masterpiece was a bit deeper psychologically.  So I was prepared time-wise but what I wasn’t prepared for was the emotion in this novel. I had no idea how overwhelming this story would be.  And I wish I could pinpoint one overwhelming emotion but it was ALL of them! I only have 500 words or so here on In the Spotlight to convey how I felt about this book…and I’m nearly half way through that already! Now I’m so overwhelmed I’m wasting space by rambling! Suffice to say that if you’re looking for a book about internal struggle, pride before a fall, arrogance leading to guilt, redemption through mistakes then you need look no further! Did I mention overwhelming emotion?

Actually though, I was most amazed by how deeply Dostoevsky drew me into his character. Raskolnikov, our protagonist, is a very complex character…maybe more so than ANY character I’ve encountered in literature before. And his complexity lies in the fact that he’s seemingly not a literary character. He is so real! It’s quite possible that Dostoevsky has created in Raskolnikov the most real fictional character ever! His range of emotion, his mental state, his thought processes don’t seem fictional at all. Dostoevsky obviously was an astute observer of the nature of humankind. And his protagonist is very human. It’s not often that I have come across a fictional character that was written so well. But Raskolnikov is! I can loathe, laugh with, sympathize with, forgive and understand Raskolnikov because his emotions and thoughts are not contrived for the sake of a good novel. They are human.

Now, I’m pretty sure that Dostoevsky was trying to say something. He was trying to teach a moral, perhaps a few morals. I’m pretty sure those lessons are about arrogance, pride, putting yourself above your fellow man, the dangers of utilitarianism, problems of ego, and on and on. And I think he meant to say that, in spite of ego and arrogance, redemption and grace are still possible. I think he was saying that the real crime is not murder (though it IS wrong). It’s the arrogance so common to humans. And the real punishment is not hard labor in a Siberian gulag (though that IS bad). It’s genuine remorse for our arrogance. But through all of our faults, redemption is still possible even for the wicked among us.

Okay, I’ll step down from this soapbox and my attempt to tell you what I think Dostoevsky was trying to say and finish with this. Morals, deep internal tussles and class struggle aside (though these are quite compelling); the real draw for me…the reason I LOVED this book is that I believethat Raskolnikov is real in that he is us. It is not just a great story with great morals. It is a human story.

- Dan Winsky, Acquisitions

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2 Comments

  1. Ben says:

    What a great book! I like this “reading the classics” theme. Maybe you should start announcing your “next” classic read at the end of each post so we can read along for the month.

    • dwinsky says:

      Ben,

      Not a bad idea…announcing my monthly read for my “Classics” postings! Problem is, I might tend to change my mind depending on availability of certain books or, heck, even my mood! I’d hate to promise one classic only to change on a whim or because a book I mention happens to be unavailable. I guess I could give it a try, but all I can say right now is that I’m leaning towards a couple of Jules Verne titles.

      Thanks for reading!

      Dano

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