Friday, April 13, 2012

Fyodor Dostoyevsky by Peter Leithart

In ways Leithart's biography of Dostoyevsky is what I think a good biography ought to be. Leithart is conversant with Dostoyevsky's writings, letters, and his other biographers. This book is carefully documented. The footnotes at times become laborious, yet make a great case for historical reliability. Whether I theologically and morally agree or disagree (and often I did disagree), this was Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

However, on the whole I cannot recommend this book. I found it to be focused on ideas like socialism, nihilism, and Pushkin the "omni-human" poet, rather than strictly a biography of Dostoyevsky's life. The ideas were too large for a book of this size, and too many mundane details were omitted. At one point I thought I could assign this to my ninth grade daughter, who will read Crime and Punishment next year. Then I became increasingly troubled by the rampant adultery portrayed. One particularly vivid scene is without any footnotes, leading me to believe it is a product of Leithart's imagination. I understand its role as a literary device, but the scene is offensive.

I would love a carefully crafted, straight forward, explanatory, true to life biography of Dostoyevsky. I would love one that would lend genuine insight into the literary master, and an understanding of his theology and how it was lived out in his life. This is not that book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the All views are my own.

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