Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Reading Dostoyevsky

When I mention Dostoyevsky to people who ask me about my taste in books, I sense a feeling of unease coming from them. It's probably due to the almost unpronouncable Russian name, and also because most people haven't heard of him. "What books did he write?" , they ask with trepidation, after I've told them that he's Russian and they start to grapple with how his name is pronounced. I generally mention 'Crime and Punishment' (one that I've read before) and 'The Idiot' (the one I'm reading now). Soon, an expression of familiarity comes across most faces along with early signs of relief. "Have you read any others?", they ask taking some interest. I tell them that I haven't. "So what does he write about?", is the final question, the one that has me reeling with discomfort.

I must honestly admit that Dostoyevsky's books are difficult to define. One doesn't know where to start. A safe way would be to mention that he writes about all classes of pre-revolution Russian society. His books discuss the human condition through the unspoken words and unconscious deeds of their characters.One would like to finish the book in a jiffy and come up with a conclusion almost instantly, but it is impossible. If one were to ignore Dostoyevsky's own torment etched on each page, it would only be cruelty. Paradoxically still, Dostoyevsky's books are not depressing, nor do they promt any thought of self-destruction. It is said that people who read 'Crime and Punishment' often feel cheated when they read 'The Idiot'. Yet the stark disparity that exists between the two only highlights the quiet brilliance of the epilleptic writer, who was a compulsive gambler and was always on the run.

It took me more than a year to finish 'Crime and Punishment'; to absorb it completely and to make it a part of what has become my thought process. I can safely assume the same about 'The Idiot'.

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