From renowned translators Richard Pevear and Lindsay Volokhonsky comes a new translation - certain to become the definitive version - of the first great prison memoir, a fictionalized account of Fyodor Dostoevsky's life-changing penal servitude in Siberia.
Sentenced to death for advocating socialism in 1849, Dostoevsky served a commuted sentence of four years of hard labor. The account he wrote afterward (sometimes translated as The House of the Dead) is filled with vivid details of brutal punishments, shocking conditions, and the psychological effects of the loss of freedom and hope but also of the feuds and betrayals, the moments of comedy, and the acts of kindness he observed.
As a nobleman and a political prisoner, Dostoevsky was despised by most of his fellow convicts, and his first-person narrator - a nobleman who has killed his wife - experiences a similar struggle to adapt. He also undergoes a transformation over the course of his ordeal, as he discovers that even among the most debased criminals there are strong and beautiful souls. Notes from a Dead House reveals the prison as a tragedy both for the inmates and for Russia. It endures as a monumental meditation on freedom.
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FYODORange is the New Black
Exposed the tsarist prison system
I liked the fact that Dostoevsky created a fictionalized account of his real-life experiences in the Western Siberian prison he spent four brutal years. I liked least the fact that the serialized nature of this 1861-3 meant it felt uneven, as if the author is trying out his skill. Which he certainly was, but the rambling and digressive and attenuated pace can weary.
Editing some of the chapters. It's heresy to say this about one of the most talented authors of fiction, but if a stronger hand had controlled this, a tighter, less ambling style would help.
Stefan Rudnicki has a deep baritone and a somewhat mechanical delivery. His slight "Slavic" accent does add verisimilitude. He loosens up a bit towards the conclusion. But he cannot render dialogue or characters very well. He has a rather robotic manner which feels odd.
Yes, as long as it was briskly paced. There's lots of potential material for lots of drama.
Sobering that the author, who had to avoid censorship by reworking some elements to tell a better and more publishable tale, had one of the arguably milder fates. He did not have to walk three years to Eastern Siberia as some prisoners did, even before they entered prison. And anywhere that 500 lashes are seen as a "light" punishment raises reminders of how cruel prisons have been and remain. At least this novel helped reform the tsarist ones.
- John L Murphy