Netochka Nezvanova (The Russians) ★★★✬☆

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Title: Netochka Nezvanova
Series: (The Russians)
Author: Fyodor Dostoyevksy
Translator: Jane Kentish
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 248
Words: 67K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

The plot unfolds in three distinct sections, corresponding to upheavals in the heroine’s life.

Chapters 1–3 are predominantly concerned with Netochka’s recollections of her childhood with her mother and stepfather in St. Petersburg, up until the time of their deaths. She begins with the background story of her stepfather, Efimov, a talented but self-obsessed violinist, whom she describes as “the strangest and most extraordinary person I have ever known” and a man whose powerful influence over her affected the rest of her life.[2] Efimov’s madness brings terrible poverty and discord to the family, and leaves the child with a premature and painful insight into the dark side of human emotions. This part of her life comes to an end when Efimov kills her mother, after which he himself becomes completely insane and dies.

Netochka is adopted by Prince X., an acquaintance of her stepfather, and chapters 4 and 5 are concerned with the orphaned girl’s immersion in this unfamiliar aristocratic world, focusing particularly on her relationship with the Prince’s daughter Katya. Netochka immediately falls in love with the beautiful Katya, but Katya is initially repelled by the strange newcomer, and is cruel and dismissive toward her. Over time, however, this apparent dislike transforms into an equally passionate reciprocation of Netochka’s feelings. Their young, unashamed love leads to an intimacy that alarms Katya’s mother, who eventually takes steps to ensure their separation. Katya’s family move to Moscow, and Netochka is placed in the care of Katya’s elder half-sister, Alexandra Mikhailovna. According to the narrator, Netochka and Katya will not see each other for another eight years, but as the novel remained unfinished, their reuniting is never described.

The final chapters describe Netochka’s teenage years growing up in the household of the gentle and maternal Alexandra Mikhailovna and her cold and distant husband Pyotr Alexandrovitch. She forms a deeply empathetic relationship with Alexandra Mikhailovna, but is troubled by her friend’s painfully solicitous attitude toward her husband, and by what appears to be calculated indifference and dissimulation on his part. Netochka suspects some mystery from their past, and eventually a clue presents itself in the form of a letter that she accidentally discovers pressed between the pages of an old book in the library. It is a letter to Alexandra Mikhaylovna from a distraught lover, lamenting the necessity of their final separation, and grieving for the irreparable harm he has caused her reputation and her marriage. Netochka’s discovery of the letter sets off a chain of events that bring Alexandra Mikhaylovna to the point of emotional breakdown, and Netochka to the point of womanhood as she confronts Pyotr Alexandrovitch with the truth of what he has done to his wife.

Several narrative threads, as with the relationship between Netochka and Katya, are left unresolved but with clear indications that they would be resumed in future installments of the novel. It is noticed, at first by Alexandra Mikhailovna, that Netochka has a beautiful singing voice, and arrangements are made for her to receive training. Her love of singing and its connection to her emotional life are examined in a number of scenes, but her artistic development is clearly only in its beginning stages. The novel finishes with an enigmatic exchange between Netochka and Ovrov, Pyotr Alexandrovitch’s secretary, that is suggestive of further development of the story relating to the love letter.

My Thoughts:

This was an unfinished work by Dostoyevsky and you know what? I’m ok with it not being finished. This was super duper ultra totally mega farfanoogan depressing. And if you don’t know what all of that means, well, think Hemingway and a Remington Tactical Magpull, heheheheehe. (I don’t like Hemingway, that’s why it’s funny)

What stood out to me was Netochka’s complete humanity. She loves her dad who uses her to steal money from her mother. She’s classic self-destructionist. It hurt to watch it unfold. But like many other Russian novels, that pain and suffering is cathartic instead of being the dark end of a Remington 😉

Why it affects me that way I don’t know, but I am thankful it does. Because otherwise I wouldn’t be reading this stuff and I LIKE broadening my horizons (well, a little anyway).

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Double ★★★✬☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: The Double
Series: (The Russians)
Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Translator: Constance Garnett
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 215
Words: 62K





Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

In Saint Petersburg, Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin works as a titular councillor (rank 9 in the Table of Ranks established by Peter the Great.), a low-level bureaucrat struggling to succeed.

Golyadkin has a formative discussion with his Doctor Rutenspitz, who fears for his sanity and tells him that his behaviour is dangerously antisocial. He prescribes “cheerful company” as the remedy. Golyadkin resolves to try this, and leaves the office. He proceeds to a birthday party for Klara Olsufyevna, the daughter of his office manager. He was uninvited, and a series of faux pas lead to his expulsion from the party. On his way home through a snowstorm, he encounters a man who looks exactly like him, his double. The following two thirds of the novel then deals with their evolving relationship.

At first, Golyadkin and his double are friends, but Golyadkin Jr. proceeds to attempt to take over Sr.’s life, and they become bitter enemies. Because Golyadkin Jr. has all the charm, unctuousness and social skills that Golyadkin Sr. lacks, he is very well-liked among the office colleagues. At the story’s conclusion, Golyadkin Sr. begins to see many replicas of himself, has a psychotic break, and is dragged off to an asylum by Doctor Rutenspitz.

My Thoughts:

This was extremely confusing. I’m used to being confused by russian stories as the authors simply think differently than I do but this just felt even more so than usual.

I can chalk that up to 3 possibilities. First, this is a novel about a man going insane and as we’re in his head, the journey to madness makes no sense itself. The second is that this was Dostoyevsky’s second novel and so it was unpolished and not as well put together as his later works. The option is that the translator bunged things up, badly. I really can’t say which option is correct but if all 3 played a part it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

Reading this so closely after finishing In the Court of the Yellow King was a mistake. That book was all about madness in phantasmagorical terms while this was “real” madness. It simply overloaded me in terms of what I could handle. Many of the situations were supposed to be humorous but they never struck me that way. It was simply sad seeing a man going insane and not knowing what was going on. It rang all too true to life too. I’ve dealt with a couple of people on meds and when they got off their meds they were just like Golyadkin. It was scary.

I am glad this was as short as it was. By the end when Golyadkin is committed to an insane asylum I was ready for this to be over, as I couldn’t handle it any more. Probably a good thing I’m not a therapist or something, hahahahaa 🙂 Despite my issues, I am glad I read this and it has in no way deterred me from continuing on with this Russian journey I have begun.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Poor Folk (The Russians) ★★★★☆

This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot, & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

Title: Poor Folk
Series: (The Russians)
Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 201
Words: 54K



Synopsis:

From Wikipedia

Varvara Dobroselova and Makar Devushkin are second cousins twice-removed and live across from each other on the same street in terrible apartments. Devushkin’s, for example, is merely a portioned-off section of the kitchen, and he lives with several other tenants, such as the Gorshkovs, whose son groans in agonizing hunger almost the entire story. Devushkin and Dobroselova exchange letters attesting to their terrible living conditions and the former frequently squanders his money on gifts for her.

The reader progressively learns their history. Dobroselova originally lived in the country, but moved to St. Petersburg (which she hates) when her father lost his job. Her father becomes very violent and her mother severely depressed. Her father dies and they move in with Anna Fyodorovna, a landlady who was previously cruel to them but at least pretends to feel sympathy for their situation. Dobroselova is tutored by a poor student named Pokrovsky, whose drunken father occasionally visits. She eventually falls in love with Pokrovsky. She struggles to save a measly amount of money to purchase the complete works of Pushkin at the market for his birthday present, then allows his father to give the books to him instead, claiming that just knowing he received the books will be enough for her happiness. Pokrovsky falls ill soon after, and his dying wish is to see the sun and the world outside. Dobroselova obliges by opening the blinds to reveal grey clouds and dirty rain. In response Pokrovsky only shakes his head and then passes away. Dobroselova’s mother dies shortly afterwards, and Dobroselova is left in the care of Anna for a time, but the abuse becomes too much and she goes to live with Fedora across the street.

Devushkin works as a lowly copyist, frequently belittled and picked on by his colleagues. His clothing is worn and dirty, and his living conditions are perhaps worse than Dobroselova’s. He considers himself a rat in society. He and Dobroselova exchange letters (and occasional visits that are never detailed), and eventually they also begin to exchange books. Devushkin becomes offended when she sends him a copy of “The Overcoat”, because he finds the main character is living a life similar to his own.

Dobroselova considers moving to another part of the city where she can work as a governess. Just as he is out of money and risks being evicted, Devushkin has a stroke of luck: his boss takes pity on him and gives him 100 rubles to buy new clothes. Devushkin pays off his debts and sends some to Dobroselova. She sends him 25 rubles back because she does not need it. The future looks bright for both of them because he can now start to save money and it may be possible for them to move in together.

The writer Ratazyayev, who jokes about using Devushkin as a character in one of his stories offends him, but genuinely seems to like him. Eventually Devushkin’s pride is assuaged and their friendship is restored. The Gorshkovs come into money because the father’s case is won in court. With the generous settlement they seem to be destined to be perfectly happy, but the father dies, leaving his family in a shambles despite the money. Soon after this, Dobroselova announces that a rich man, Mr. Bykov who had dealings with Anna Fyodorovna and Pokrovsky’s father, has proposed to her. She decides to leave with him, and the last few letters attest to her slowly becoming accustomed to her new money.

She asks Devushkin to find linen for her and begins to talk about various luxuries, but leaves him alone in the end despite his improving fortunes. In the last correspondence in the story, on September 29, Devushkin begs Dobroselova to write to him. Dobroselova responds saying that “all is over” and to not forget her. The last letter is from Devushkin saying that he loves her and that he will die when he leaves her and Now she will cry.

My Thoughts:

This was a very peculiar read. Not only was I dealing with the change in culture due to time (it was published in 1846) but I was also dealing with a “real” cultural change going from America all the way to Russia. I’ve read enough of the Russians to know that some of that change I can accommodate and that other bits are beyond inscrutable for me.

Basically, we have the letters between 2 distant cousins chronicling their ups and downs of fortune. Being happy or sad is universal, but the WHY of being happy or sad is where things just sailed over my head. Why does the older guy care so much about what random people on the street think about him? He is beyond obsessed, to the point where he’s making stuff up in his own head for goodness sake.

I am thankful this was as short as it was. While not unenjoyable it was strange enough that I couldn’t really get into the flow of things. Something would happen or they’d say something that you could tell had more meaning behind it but it simply lost to me.

This was translated by C.J. Hogarth.

Rating: 4 out of 5.