Poor People by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Written at the age of 24 back in 1846, this Dostoyevsky novel catapulted his career, such as it was, into fame, if not riches. Without it, I doubt we would ever have had the glory that is Crime and Punishment.
Equally so, without this one, we wouldn't have had such pretty and flowery prose filled with hope -- at least at the beginning, with love, -- that is practically foreign in his later works. But it serves to really make his style stand out in this case.
The pure optimism and idealism shown here is scraped away with first a butterknife and then later with a cheese-grater, and yet the words keep coming back in stark contrast with the sheer, desperate poverty that both our main characters must live through.
It's an epistle novel, and very pretty, but it also serves to let slip so many of their working conditions and psychological horrors. When a few kopecks can drive them to tears, when he must sell his best work uniform to pay for rent in a filthy, falling apart hovel, or when she burns her fingers and yet must still stitch through the pain as she becomes skin and bones.
Hardcore. Their love letters are real, as is their love, and yet I'm reminded of things like Upton's Jungle as I read this. The conditions seem very natural to readers of, say, Dickens, but this is harder, more desperate.
And to think that the novel is actually a satire of the current genre? I can believe it if only I was a bit more aware of that particular genre. I think I might need to read some Pushkin soon.
There's some real genius here. Of course, I'm not the first to say so.
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