The House of the Dead by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
More a series of vignettes and abject realism describing his time in a Siberian prison for four years, Fyodor Dostoyevsky writes something that weighs heavy on the heart even while the book does not describe any kind of plot or true closure.
That's okay. He writes fantastically plotted books later on and he draws from his intense despair and sharp eye in the human psyche in those later novels in amazing ways. This one, however, is still quite rich and lush with characters and details, immersing us in truly morbid circumstances without quite destroying us.
What do I mean? Well, Dostoyevsky is well aware of the nastiness of the human condition and having experienced some of the worst effects of being on the bottom of the rung, while also having such an intense desire to see the best in anything, find even the tiniest of sparks of optimism, this book is an awesome example of dichotomies.
I loved the joy of having meat on one of the three holidays that even convicts could celebrate. I loved the spectacle and the play. I loved the revels and the consequences of smuggling. I loved the way that the hospitals were used to hide and escape the otherwise horrible conditions, even when the reused hospital gowns weren't cleaned, full of lice, seeping scabs, other excretable decaying matter.
And then there were the convicts themselves. So many intrigues and floggings, intimidation, and crazy hierarchies. And of course, the crimes and the punishments. The whole place is a malicious spider sucking the vitality out of all its inhabitants.
It is pretty hardcore. Of course, there are many other modern examples, so much so that it is a genre as prison fiction, but this is still pretty unique and VERY autobiographical.
So why didn't I give it a full five stars?
Put simply, I didn't really ENJOY it as anything other than an analytical exercise.
Fans of Dostoyevsky should still focus on Crime and Punishment and especially The Brothers Karamazov.
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