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The House of the Dead

 
 
Khethil
 
Reply Sat 6 Jun, 2009 06:57 am
The House of the Dead
Fyodor Dostoevsky
ISBN: 1-59308-194-4
Publisher: Barnes and Noble Classics

OVERVIEW: In 1849, Russian Emperor Nicholas I, worried about the implications of allowing a progressive collection of Literary Discussion Group to exist, arrested all its members and sent them to prison. Among them was Fyodor Dostoevsky; who was originally sentenced to death, but ended up being released after 6 years in a Siberian prison camp. This book, written as if it were a journal found (of someone who'd lived that experience) is his expression. Although this was written as a narrative, it's only loosely organized in a chronological sequence. It's not as long as many of FD's; only about 300 pages in mid-size paperback but it's an easy read. Fyodor not only describes his experiences, but dwells at length on the relationships he had with other inmates and guards. He also interjects, here and there, philosophical insights related to people, places and events. It's not terribly brutal or shocking; rather, comes across as more introspection than anything. And despite his characteristic style, it's an easy, low stress read.

PROS:

  • Quite Readable
  • Lots of Interesting Characters
  • Excellent narration of conversations; makes for easy following
  • From-the-heart insights - very honest and believable
  • Good scene and mood settings
  • Creative lettering; nice use of third person perspectives


CONS:

  • Despite the volatility of the theme; overall, not a whole lot happens
  • Meetings and conversations are quickly and shortly described. I'd like to have seen these played out a bit more to catch the moods
  • The ending of the book, upon his release, felt "rushed'. Obviously a boon of emotions in such an event strikes me as warranting a bit of dwelling.


HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The Psychology of using hard-labor in prison camps (pp26)
  • Gazin the Tatar; a monster (pp50)
  • Christmas - an event in the Siberian Camp (pp142)
  • Death in Fetters (pp182)
  • Creative solution to Malingering (pp189)
  • Psychology of the Torturer (pp202)
  • Akulka's Husband (pp227)


NOTABLE QUOTES:

  • "He made lanterns in a masterly way, and worked methodically without stopping; when he had finished his work he put it away tidily, spread out his little mattress, said his prayers, and conscientiously went to bed. Conscientiousness and orderliness he carried apparently to the point of trivial pedantry; evidently he must have considered himself an exceedingly clever person, as is usually the case with limited and dull-witted people."


  • "But here I have been trying to classify all the prisoners, and that is hardly possible. Real life is infinite in its variety in comparison with even the cleverest abstract generalization, and it does not admit of sharp and sweeping distinctions. The tendency of real life is always towards greater and greater differentiation."


  • "But I remember what absorbed me more than anything was one thought, which haunted me persistently all the time I was in prison, a difficulty that cannot be fully solved-I cannot solve it even now: the inequality of punishment for the same crime. It is true that crimes cannot be compared even approximately. For instance, two men may commit murders; all the circumstances of each case are weighted; and in both cases almost the same punishment is given. Yet look at the difference between the crimes. One may have committed a murder for nothing, for an onion, he murdered a peasant on the high road who turned out to have nothing but an onion. "See, father, you sent me to get booty. Here I've murdered a peasant and all I've found is an onion." "Fool! An onion means a farthing! A hundred murders and a hundred onions and you've got a ruble!" (a prison legend). Another murders a sensual tyrant in defense of the honour of his betrothed, his sister or his child. Another is a fugitive, hemmed in by a regiment of trackers, who commits a murder in defense of his freedom, his life, often dying of hunger; and another murders little children for the pleasure of killing, a feeling of their warm blood on his hands, of enjoying their terror, and their last dove-like flutter under the knife. Yet all of these are sent to the same penal servitude."

MY RATING: 6.5
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