Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review: The Idiot

It's actually been almost two weeks since I finished it-but I recently finished reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Idiot. I started reading this book around October 15 and it took me until December 8 to finish it. It is the second work by Dostoevsky that I've read (my first being The Brothers Karamazov when I was in my late teens at the recommendation of my brother's friend, Mark) and it will not be the last. I do enjoy Dostoevsky-even if my friend Katie calls him "The Russian Virginia Woolf."
My reading of this book was born out of a conversation with my friend, Kyle, while looking at classic literature at Barnes & Noble back in August. He had just finished The Brothers Karamazov and had loved it-like I had a few years earlier-and was looking for more works of classic literature to read. And we saw The Idiot on the shelves. Neither of us had read it but since I had more experience with Russian Lit (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Pasternak) I told him I would (eventually) read The Idiot and let him know what I thought of it. Well, it took me forever to read it (mostly because I was busy with school) but I finished it and I'm ready to say what I thought of it.

To best explain my reaction to this book, I have to explain how I evaluate a book:
  1. Is this book interesting?
  2. What is the author's main theme/message?
  3. Was the main character likable?
  4. Do I agree/accept the message the author is trying to get across?
  5. How does the author's background/historical context affect this novel?
So to review this book, I'm simply going to answer those five questions.
  1. Yes, this book was interesting; as most Russian novels are, the plot dragged at times but for the most part it was pretty great.
  2. Beauty will save the world; the main character (Prince Lev Nikolayovich Myshkin) actually says this at one point.
  3. Yes and no-Prince Myshkin (aka The Idiot) was likable sometimes but other times I wanted to punch the guy in the face for making (what I deemed to be) dumb decisions.
  4. Yes, I believe that beauty (if we identify Christ as the source of all beauty) will save the world. Dostoevsky was a Christian, as I recall.
  5. Dostoevsky strongly disliked Roman Catholicism, the Jesuits, and the European nations and their inhabitants. And this leads to my main gripe with the book. I was loving and enjoying the book until shortly before the end when Prince Myshkin goes off on a rant against Catholicism, the Jesuits, and the Pope. And later on, Madame Yepanchina rants against how horrible and uncivilized Europe and Europeans are. I find some of this logical due to Russian history. But a lot of this is Dostoevsky's personal opinions/dislikes/grievances/biases. For me, these rants kept the book from becoming a personal favorite.
So I give this book four out of five stars. It was good but it could have been better.

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