BY THE BOOK | It’s the Season for Russian Writers


When you are walking down to the beach on a sun-dappled gently breezy summer afternoon, you don't want Dostoevsky leaping onto your brain from behind a tree, dragging your soul out of your ear and into the bushes to give it a good kicking. Save that joy for the winter. During the cold bleak dark months the Russians novelists are the perfect guerillas I want creeping into my orbit to shove me into pondering the great Russian profundities and essences. 

Dostoevsky, to my mind the greatest of the greats, has more interesting nuances on every page than most writers achieve in a lifetime. Crime and Punishment, an indescribable triumph (which I'm now going to try to describe), is about Raskolnikov, a young man who tries in his inner world (and then through his terrible actions) to create a sort of excuse for a transvaluation of values and to be outside of moral requirements. The theme is so large it encompasses all aspects of life and thought and morality. A winter read if there ever was one, although it mainly takes place in the muggy summery stench of St. Petersburg. Reading Dostoevsky's novels are an achievement in and of itself but I also love his biography. Of course, the main one is the four volume Joseph Frank masterwork. Fyodor has that big a life. Imprisonment, threat of execution, huge debts, deaths and intrigue all around him, he lived his novels. The Frank biography also encompasses the Russian literary scene of Dostoyevsky's time and really all of Russian and European cultural history of the nineteenth century, it could be a Russian novel itself. 

Tolstoy too is a winter pleasure. The depth and scope of each character is not something I would like to contemplate while having a milkshake in the park, but on a cold hunched over walk in the bone-freezing wind when I have forgotten my hat, that is when Leo comes to mind. Turgenev, Gogol, Chekhov and many more are on my winter lists of addictive intellectual stimulants. Curled up in my chair, wind howling out of the window, I say to my dog Max (who is begging for his wintry sojourn) 'one more chapter.' Turgenev's Fathers and Sons is a favorite high-level sort of opera but with nihilism and cynicism as co-conspirators ambushing love and romance in the wooded estates the characters ramble. And Chekhov's short stories, does the sun shine at all? It doesn't need to. It's all about the depths and Russian depths in my mind are perfect warm internal sunshine while the winds and wolves howl. 

st. petersburg, dostoyevsky, fyodor, chekhov, tolstoy, raskolnikov