Friday, January 21, 2022

The Sinner and the Saint by Kevin Birmingham

My familiarity with Dostoevsky goes back to high school (decades ago). I went through a period of interest in the "classics" and remember reading The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. I have only a slight remembrance of the latter but thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about what influenced this Russian writer that is so often referred to. Bottom line: history and politics influenced him. And those are two subjects for which I honestly have little interest.  I hate admitting that fact and I really, really wanted to like this book. 

Readers with a working knowledge of Russia's history and political landscape, will probably find the book a fascinating read.  I slogged through about forty percent of the book and then I just decided to cut my losses. The overall impression of his life is one of desperation, misguided fervor, and hubris. When Doestoevsky's writing was first "discovered" in his early 20's, I think that set him on the road to ruin as much was made of his intellect at the time. I couldn't help thinking about all the child celebrities who have much made of them only to allow fame and fortune to utterly ruin them for a normal, productive life.  

The first half of the book was like watching a rising star hit its zenith and then slowly descend to its death. The hopelessness of the political scene paralleled the hopelessness of Dostoevsky's life. A man who seemed to live aimlessly, constantly running up debts, borrowing from Peter to pay Paul and never quite learning from his mistakes. 

The book seemed to be meticulously researched, so I do not fault the author for my lack of enjoyment. He did a marvelous job of allowing me to experience some of the madness that characterized Dostoevsky's life as I muddled through the pages. While this did not resonate with me, I do feel like it is a worthy work for anyone wanting a greater understanding of what shaped the life of Dostoevsky. I would gladly recommend to anyone who is pursuing Russian Literature or some other Russian studies. This is not a light, or casual read but rather something that will take time to absorb and process. For those who have the tenacity to complete it, I am sure their efforts will be rewarded.   

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of The Sinner and the Saint free from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.


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