Fyodor Dostoevsky by Peter Leithart
(Thomas Nelson, 2011, 208 pages)
This is a wonderful short biography of the great Russian novelist. Leithart’s account of Dostoevsky’s life takes a narrative form, complete with dialogue – some of it imagined, but most of it pieced together directly from journals, letters, and reported conversations with friends and family. The framework for the story is a fictional conversation between Dostoevsky and his friend Apollon Maikov, the Russian poet. The two friends reminisce about the major inspirations and events of Dostoevsky’s life, flashing back to scenes of his childhood experiences with Russian peasants, early involvement in socially radical literary groups, imprisonment in Siberia, financial troubles, and domestic life.
Leithart has drawn heavily and effectively from Joseph Frank’s definitive biographical work on Dostoevsky in order to tell a story which captures the major themes of the writer’s life and work. He has focused on Dostoevsky’s understanding of Christianity, showing how his faith and his national identity shaped his writings. Leithart definitely accomplishes one of the major goals of any literary biography – to give readers cause to turn back to a writer’s work with a greater capacity for appreciation and enjoyment. This book will serve as a wonderful and extremely readable introduction to those who have never tackled Dostoevsky, in addition to providing a helpful context to anyone who has already encountered classics like Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, or Notes from Underground.