THE HOUSE OF THE DEAD
The four years that Dostoyevsky spent in a Siberian prison camp were nasty, brutish and long, the most agonizing of his life. Just how horrible that time was I have not the strength to tell you . . .. Yet no other novel depicts the prison coffin with more immediacy than The House of the Dead. Its documentary detail - the convicts and their fascinating stories, the wooden plank bed that they sleep on, the cabbage soup swimming with cockroaches that they eat - is made all the more vivid by the controlled, oddly impersonal tone of the narrator. He, like the others, had stepped beyond himself to commit his crime. He found his strange family of convicts boastful, ugly, vain, cruel and ludicrously obsessed with outward appearances. But it is their vitality that overtakes The House of the Dead, turning the crisis of its narrator into a slow miracle: the return and reawakening of his personality. Softbound. 362 pp.