Russian literature

The diary of a tortured man: Deceit, by Yuri Felsen, reviewed

Yuri Felsen, born in St Petersburg, was an exile in Riga, Berlin and Paris and died at Auschwitz in 1943. Had his archive not been destroyed, we might find him on the same shelf as Vladimir Nabokov, Vladislav Khodasevich and Ivan Bunin – the glittering Russian literati of 1930s Paris – and Georgy Adamovich, who said that Felsen’s prose ‘left behind a light for which there is no name’. With this new translation of the 1930 novel Deceit, that light has been brought back from dim obscurity. In this first of three novels Felsen published, we follow the unnamed narrator’s tortured obsession with the ‘unequivocally irresistible’ Lyolya Heard, who drifts

The crime which inspired Crime and Punishment

‘Whether I am a trembling creature or whether I have the right…’ The much quoted words of Rodion Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Crime and Punishment, encapsulate the novel’s main question. Fyodor Dostoevsky first pitched the idea of ‘the psychological account of a crime’ to a publisher in 1865. Three decades earlier, a real-life murderer, Pierre François Lacenaire, waiting for his execution in a French prison, wrote: ‘Only I can decide whether I have done wrong or right to society.’ As Kevin Birmingham shows in his new book, this is but one detail of Lacenaire’s story mirrored in Dostoevsky’s masterpiece; moreover, Dostoevsky’s reflections on the case influenced the way he understood

Born out of suffering: the inspiration of Dostoevsky’s great novels

A death sentence, prison in Siberia, and chronic epilepsy. The death of his young children, a gambling addiction, and possible manic depression. Few writers endure such dark lives or possess such bright creativity as Fyodor Dostoevsky. His incomparable experiences inform many of his novels’ most powerful scenes, from accounts of innocent suffering and crazed revolutionaries to nightmarish epileptic fits. He intended to reflect on his traumatic life by writing a memoir but, aged 59, he died of a pulmonary haemorrhage. In 1867, Dostoevsky had four months to write two novels (which amounted to 752 pages) Noting this literary vacuum, Alex Christofi challenges himself to write a sort of third-person memoir