A classic made current and a welcome addition to the library of Russian literature in translation.


One of literature’s definitive prison memoirs is given new immediacy in this sturdy translation by the team of Pevear and Volokhonsky (Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, 2007, etc.).

Much of Dostoyevsky’s work is yellowed with age, and its mustiness isn’t entirely the fault of earlier translators; as well, he has the gloomy and moralizing air of the proselyte, especially one who’s seen the worst side of human nature, all of which makes him sometimes disagreeable to read. This piece from his middle period, first published in 1861, is an exception. It's a thinly veiled roman à clef: The “dead house” in question is the walled prison within the greater prison that is the Siberian wild to which Dostoyevsky was remanded in 1849 after having run afoul of the czarist regime. “In prison they generally took a dark and unfavorable view of former noblemen,” he writes. Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov, the nobleman in question, returns the favor; imprisoned for killing his wife (a crime eligible for parole, of course), he is full of class prejudices and certain that he deserves better company, but in time, he sheds his disdain, having discovered that “in prison there was time enough to learn patience.” Prison occasions its own society, a microcosm in which nobles become servants and another nobility emerges, one that values people such as the inmate who “was self-taught in everything: one glance and he did it.” Indeed, Goryanchikov tells us, all the old categories and classifications fall victim to the reality of prison, where a man who’s killed six people can be less frightening than one who’s killed just one. “There were crimes of which it was hard to form even the most elementary notion: there was so much strangeness in the way they were committed.” Lacking the penitential heavy-handedness of Dostoyevsky’s later work, Notes humanizes the forgotten denizens of the first Gulag, decrying a system of punishment that does not always fit the crime.

A classic made current and a welcome addition to the library of Russian literature in translation.

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-95959-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet