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Dostoevsky in Love Reviews

Dostoevsky in Love by Alex Christofi

Dostoevsky in Love: An Intimate Life

Alex Christofi

4.20 out of 5

8 reviews

Imprint: Bloomsbury Continuum
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication date: 21 Jan 2021
ISBN: 9781472964694

Reading between the lines of his fiction, Christofi reconstructs the memoir Dostoevsky might have written had life - and literary stardom - not intervened. He gives us a new portrait of the artist as never before seen: a shy but devoted lover, an empathetic friend of the people, a loyal brother and friend, and a writer able to penetrate to the very depths of the human soul.

  • The BooksellerEditor's Choice
5 stars out of 5
Caroline Sanderson
9 Oct 2020

"This enthralling biography of the Russian novelist pushes brilliantly at the imaginative boundaries of what it is to retell the story of someone's life"

This enthralling biography of the Russian novelist pushes brilliantly at the imaginative boundaries of what it is to retell the story of someone's life. Christofi-editorial director at Transworld and an award-winning novelist-blends excerpts from Dostoevsky's own writing with his own historical research to present a rounded and moving portrait of the artist: as a devoted lover, an empathetic friend of the people, a loyal brother and friend, and a writer able to penetrate to the very depths of the human soul. Published for the 200th anniversary of Dostoevsky's birth.

Reviews

4 stars out of 5
Roger Lewis
18 Mar 2021

"(A) quick-moving book"

This is the atmosphere of Crime And Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot, The Devils, and so forth: lurid stories about ghosts, imposters and assassins, full of ‘repetitions and digressions’, like Charles Dickens if he’d gone round the bend.

Anna sorted the finances, helped her husband find publishers, edited the tangled texts and was responsible for the organisation of Dostoevsky’s final years, which were blighted by bladder infections, emphysema and nose bleeds.

In Russia, he was ‘hailed as a national prophet’ and the Tsar invited him to dinner at the Winter Palace — not bad for a former convict. When he died in January 1881, thousands thronged the streets to watch his funeral procession.

My favourite detail in this quick-moving book: Dostoevsky and Anna kept a cow in their upstairs apartment, ‘so their children could have fresh milk’.

4 stars out of 5
26 Feb 2021

"Inventive take on a remarkable life"

The biographer’s dedication is clear. Like a literary sleuth, Christofi has lovingly spliced Dostoevsky’s inner life to expose its brilliant complexity to us, and to those with little knowledge of the author’s work. The myriad identities of the man are encompassed here in a thrilling literary ride: a revolutionary and occasional traditionalist; philosopher and prisoner; lover and family man; summoned to life with such creative flair that surely the great writer himself would have approved.

4 stars out of 5
Boyd Tonkin
21 Jan 2021

"A gallop through the mind and art of a man whose novels and personal journey crackled with drama"

Alex Christofi, novelist and publisher, channels this tumult into a brief, fierce account of Dostoevsky’s inner and outer life. Dostoevsky in Love knits passages from the novelist’s fiction and journals with others’ testimony to form an immersive, swift-moving but carefully sourced collage, “a tale both novelistic and true to life”. The book doesn’t aim to rival standard biographies — above all, Joseph Frank’s five-volume masterwork — but it does dodge smartly past the forbidding mystic monster of the textbooks to find the all-too-human pilgrim through extremities beneath.

3 stars out of 5
17 Jan 2021

"Christofi includes vivid details of the author’s destitution"

Newcomers to Dostoevsky will gain a potted biography of a striking figure, but need greater content and context to appreciate his writing. Those familiar with the author may enjoy the ride, but they’ll learn little. Christofi’s innovative approach might be laudable, but the book reads more like one of Dostoevsky’s experimental short stories than one of his great novels.

3 stars out of 5
16 Jan 2021

"An experimental biography tries to domesticate the great novelist, who was scarcely able to tie his own shoelaces without disaster"

The result may be fluently readable and warmly entertaining, graced with a nice sideline in Christofi’s own dry asides, but the constant implication that this interpolated material represents what Dostoevsky or others in his life might have thought lies awkwardly on the verge of fiction, and reduces the narrative’s authority. Moreover, Christofi provides only the sketchiest indication of Dostoevsky’s spiritual, philosophical and political positions. The overall effect lacks gravitas, and the speculative attributions become irritating rather than illuminating. What we are left with is a sympathetic figure, more goofy bungler than tormented genius.

5 stars out of 5
Frances Wilson
14 Jan 2021

"Dostoevsky in Love is beautifully crafted and realised, but it is the great love that Christofi feels for his subject that makes this such a moving book."

Christofi, also a novelist, describes Dostoevsky in Love as less a biography than a “reconstructed memoir”. His method, he explains, has been to “cheerfully commit the academic fallacy” of eliding Dostoevsky’s “autobiographical fiction with his fantastical life”. This is achieved by blending his authorial voice with that of Dostoevsky, in sections lifted from the letters, notebooks and fiction and stitched seamlessly into the text. So as not to interrupt the narrative flow, the sources are given only at the back of the book. It’s a witty motif which works well, not least because it immerses us in the forcefield of Dostoevsky’s thought, which Christofi also employs to explain his own waywardness. “Facts,” as Dostoevsky reminds us in Crime and Punishment and Christofi reminds us here, “aren’t everything; knowing how to deal with the facts is at least half the battle.”... Novelists tend to make good biographers, not least because they know how to shape a story, and it is no mean feat to boil Dostoevsky’s epic life down to 256 pulse-thumping pages. Dostoevsky in Love is beautifully crafted and realised, but it is the great love that Christofi feels for his subject that makes this such a moving book.

4 stars out of 5
John Walsh
3 Jan 2021

"an intimate look at the writer... The result is winningly brisk"

Reducing such a crazily eventful life to 240 pages can make it seem farcical, like a speeded-up film, and sometimes Dostoevsky in Love strays into novelettish scenes and dialogues. Christofi gratingly mix’n’matches different registers of narrating voice: one minute we hear Victorian tutting about “a fallen woman called Martha Brown” with whom Fyodor “found a private arrangement”; the next we get the 21st-century blather of “Fyodor provided a shoulder to cry on … assuring her that he didn’t judge her”... By the end, though, when The Brothers Karamazov is published to acclaim and Dostoevsky’s coffin is cheered through the St Petersburg streets by thousands of fans, you feel you know pretty well the texture of his life and the rhythm of his obsessions. Forced to choose between Christofi’s patchwork quilt and the vast cathedral of Joseph Frank’s five-volume intellectual biography, modern readers might be forgiven for picking the former.