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Notes from a Dead House
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky


Overview -

From the acclaimed translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky comes a new translation of the first great prison memoir: Fyodor Dostoevsky's fictionalized account of his life-changing penal servitude in Siberia.

In 1849 Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years at hard labor in a Siberian prison camp for his participation in a utopian socialist discussion group.  Read more...


 
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More About Notes from a Dead House by Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Richard Pevear; Larissa Volokhonsky
 
 
 
Overview

From the acclaimed translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky comes a new translation of the first great prison memoir: Fyodor Dostoevsky's fictionalized account of his life-changing penal servitude in Siberia.

In 1849 Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years at hard labor in a Siberian prison camp for his participation in a utopian socialist discussion group. The account he wrote after his release, based on notes he smuggled out, was the first book to reveal life inside the Russian penal system. The book not only brought him fame but also founded the tradition of Russian prison writing.

Notes from a Dead House (sometimes translated as The House of the Dead) is filled with vivid details of brutal punishments, shocking conditions, feuds and betrayals, and the psychological effects of the loss of freedom, but it also describes moments of comedy and acts of kindness. There are grotesque bathhouse and hospital scenes that seem to have come straight from Dante's Inferno, alongside daring escape attempts, doomed acts of defiance, and a theatrical Christmas celebration that draws the entire community together in a temporary suspension of their grim reality.

To get past government censors, Dostoevsky made his narrator a common-law criminal rather than a political prisoner, but the perspective is unmistakably his own. His incarceration was a transformative experience that nourished all his later works, particularly Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky's narrator discovers that even among the most debased criminals there are strong and beautiful souls. His story reveals the prison as a tragedy both for the inmates and for Russia; it is, finally, a profound meditation on freedom: "The prisoner himself knows that he is a prisoner; but no brands, no fetters will make him forget that he is a human being."


 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780307959591
  • ISBN-10: 0307959597
  • Publisher: Alfred a Knopf Inc
  • Publish Date: March 2015
  • Page Count: 311
  • Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.75 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.45 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Classics
Books > Fiction > Political

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2015-01-05
  • Reviewer: Staff

In April 1849, Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested for his participation in an underground socialist ring. After his death sentence was commuted at the last minute, he spent four years doing hard labor in Siberia. The classic penal memoir that resulted is the latest to be translated by the acclaimed Pevear and Volokhonsky. The work is a loosely fictionalized account of Dostoevsky’s experience, framed by the voice of a fictional editor who acquires the papers of Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov, an exiled nobleman who suffered 10 years of hard labor for the murder of his wife. Yet the book is organized as a collection of thematic sketches, rather than chronologically—“First Impressions,” “Christmas,” “The Hospital,” etc.—which are drawn from Dostoevsky’s memories and notes, written in prison and entrusted to a medical assistant who returned them upon his release. The notes are equal parts an anthropology of prison (how to smuggle vodka in a bull’s intestines, the lyrics to prison folk songs, biographical sketches of various condemned men, and an account of the ecology of prison politics) and equal parts philosophy, meditating on the use of prison as punishment, the psychology of an executioner (“It is hard to conceive how far human nature can be distorted”), and a nobleman’s perennial otherness within a prison’s walls (“I would never be accepted as a comrade”). Dostoevsky unflinchingly describes the dehumanization of prison, such as the way fetters were not even lifted from the dying, but also conveys how the flame of humanity survives even under such conditions, allowing cleverness and compassion to endure. This new translation is eminently readable. (Mar.)

 
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