Monday, September 12, 2011

Fyodor Dostoevsky

By Peter Leithart. 208 pages. Thomas Nelson Publishers. 2011.

Biographer Peter Leithart uses a fictionalized account, mostly through Fyodor Dostoevsky's reminiscences with an old friend, to portray the life and times of the author of Crime and Punishment.

Leithart does a terrific job fitting Dostoevsky into the intellectual and political currents of his day. He participated in intellectual circles, which occasioned his Siberian imprisonment. Rather than letting this ruin him, Dostoevsky found Christ in Siberia, by reading the New Testament and by observing the humanity of his fellow prisoners.

As one serious limitation, the author fails to portray adequately the Orthodox church, its theology, spiritual practices, and central place in Russian society. He does show how faithful Dostoevsky was to Christ, but fails to show how the great author's spirituality was Orthodox. The Russian soul was indeed Christian, as Leithart observes again and again, but it is a specifically Orthodox soul, which differs substantially from a Calvinist spirituality.

The biography succeeds at showing the everyday character of Dostoevsky, including his irritability, stubbornness, gambling and money problems, and fights with wives and mistresses. Yet he was generous to a fault, especially with relatives who took advantage of him, and held many great ideals.

For the famous writer, it all came down to Christ, and how the Lord, having redeemed Russia, would use his country to save the world.

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