I’ll read anything by a Russian, dead ones especially. Sure, some people write prettier. Most at least write far more succinctly. But when it comes to raw humanity—that scope of life from gore to glory—there’s no comparison.
Thirty years before The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky was arrested together with other members of the Petrashevsky Circle and sentenced to death. After eight months in prison, Dostoevsky was taken out to what he thought would be his execution—only to have the order reprieved at the very last second, blindfolds already tightened, guns at the ready. Instead, Dostoevsky was assigned to four years of hard labor in Siberia, and in a later letter to his brother described the day’s turn of events and his new sentence. He wrote what I often feel after reading his writing:
Brother, I’m not depressed and haven’t lost spirit. Life everywhere is life, life is in ourselves and not in the external. There will be people near me, and to be a human being among human beings, and remain one forever, no matter what misfortunes befall, not to become depressed, and not to falter—this is what life is, herein lies the task. I have come to recognize this. This idea has entered my flesh and blood . . . Never until now have such rich and healthy stores of spiritual life throbbed in me.
I loved Dostoevsky first for his words (one commentator remarked thatThe Brothers Karamazov “seems to have swallowed a small library”). I still love those words, but more now for what they combine to mean: I love Dostoevsky for his grace and his hope, his understanding of both the redemptive quality to suffering and the incomparable experience of life despite all the darkness and doubt and the downright depravity. Like I said, raw humanity. No one does it better.