Such novels as written by Fyodor Dostoevsky more than 150 years ago, a novel about the Siberian penal servitude “Notes from the dead house”, which is now newly translated into Danish, for the reviewer create a lot of problems.
The novel is great as a mountain. To crush the mountain, and then to grind stones into dust, then to push the dust into a small envelope reviews — an impossible task. To try to somehow get around that is how to find the shortest way across the mountain ridge, also fails. It’s too much for one reviewer may get lost.
Instead, I hurry to call seven compelling reasons in order for a novel to read:
1. For the sake of the jokes and in order to deepen the historical perspective
The plot of the novel — the four years that Dostoevsky spent in prison in Siberia after vosplamenenie bourgeois revolutions in Europe in 1848, took part in the socio-philosophical student groups in St. Petersburg. Of course, often tell the story of the mock execution, a pardon at the last moment and subsequent years in jail and six years of military service is not a joke, but part of the absurd reality of political history. The absurdity reaches its climax not on the scaffold in St. Petersburg, but in prison and continues to exist in the image of Dostoevsky.
2. For the storyteller, his narratives and anthropological views
The narrator in Dostoevsky’s name is Alexander, he is a gentleman, the distance between him and other convicts, the so-called “ordinary people” is compelling. Distance adds something to the impression of the loneliness of life in prison, it also strengthens sobriety of observations, what is seen from the side. To this is added an almost verbal candor of the story and heightens the impression of the digressions that permeate the entire narrative. They have a lot, and they are now expounded.
3. For the sake of psychological figure, images of human types in prison (apropos 2)
The types are the meek, sanguine, obstinate prisoner, the whole range of possible reactions to humiliation and deprivation at the prison.
One of the types of sadistic of the guards. He “loved, passionately loved the art of punishment, he liked it as art.” He continues the narrator, “how perverse and inflated patrician in the Roman Empire came up with different nuances and distortions, to tickle his fat soul.” This type appears again in the images of camp life in the next century, not only the type but also the mechanisms, the coincidence of more or less accidental circumstances, which make it possible to turn vicious sadism.
4. For the analysis of the relationship between sadism and guilt based on the tyranny of society (apropos 2 and 3)
“In short, the right of corporal punishment given to one man over another is one of the public evils; it is one of the strongest means to kill any germ and any attempts to achieve citizenship and the right way to immediate and irreversible collapse of society.”
Tyranny says the narrator is “a habit that has a tendency to develop and eventually turns into disease.”
5. For dirt, excess amount of human matter in prison, spelled out to the smallest detail
At the hospital in prison: “everything was steeped in an unpleasant juices, means for washing wounds, fluid from the cut out bubbles and so forth.” As spots on the body and as something transient.
6. For certain scenes, wild and grotesque scenes with a sinister, but alluring mythological tinge
As, for example, the scene in the bath, nearly a hundred naked human bodies, like sardines in hell from steam, dirt, whipping a birch besom — a glowing centre — shaven heads of convicts, and steamed red body. Picturesque madness, like Hieronymus Bosch. Monstrous and wildly funny.
7. And finally — for the sake of hope, not a realistic hope, but a kind of resilience, it is reasonable (i.e., inconceivable and in its meaninglessness touching response to 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6)
Just one quote: “Every convict feels that he is not at home, as if he were a guest. He’s looking at twenty years for two years and I am absolutely sure that when you leave jail at the age of 55 years, he will be the same fast guy, like now, when he was 35. “I live!”, he thinks all the time and drives away from himself all the doubts, and other pesky thoughts.”
Here we will stop, destroyed the consciousness of the incredible enormity of the reality, but inspired by the dull realism of the image and a new translation.
Fyodor Dostoevsky: “Notes from the dead house”, translation and comments Sondergaard Trine (Trine søndergaard was) (the first translation into Danish after the translation of George Sarov (Georg Sarauw) 1943, new edition 1964). Foreword Lars P. Poulsen-Hansen (Lars P. Poulsen-Hansen). 473 page 329 kč. Publisher Sisyfos