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White Nights

White Nights - Fyodor Dostoyevsky This story, really a novella, is the one I use to introduce people to Dostoyevsky. If you like White Nights you will like Fyodor Mikailovich, I think, and if you don't you won't. In it we're introduced to a charming intelligent young man who lives on the edges of St. Petersburg life, a shy dreamer who spends almost all his time alone. The life of his observations and imagination is very full, however. He daydreams in 3d with vivid colors passionate intricate tales that engross him completely, to the point that an actual friend knocking on his door to say hello flusters him totally, leaving him nonplussed for the entire short awkward visit. Dostoyevsky, in his brilliant way makes me care deeply about our hero, and feel a total sense of identification with him.

One day, our protagonist meets an actual real-life girl, one whose temperment and situation in life are something like his. They become great friends immediately, something that has never happened to him before. The story takes off at this point, piling up so much light and darkness that I'm gasping for breath all the way through until the magnificent ending.

It's extraordinary the way Dostoyevsky can make all of us feel so much identification with his characters. I feel each time I read this story that he's plumbed the secret depths of my soul that not even I had any idea of. He slices me apart and puts me back together so that I'm somebody totally new after he's done. I feel as though he's writing about me and only me, through a century and a half of time travel and a thorough reading of my subconscious mind, and I do feel exposed by it.

My son's aunt who studied Russian literature in Russia says Dostoyevsky is evil, because he cuts us open and has a poke round our deepest selves with such complete and utter honesty. It's true he does see the whole of humanity, from our basest depravity to our highest divinity. But for me his truth is purifying, like a sacred flame, like the caress of a being who's both angel and demon at the same time. I do think Dostoyevsky is the greatest novelist of all in the whole history of western civilization.