The Idiot

The Idiot

Book - 1976
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A & towering figure of Russian literature, Fyodor Dostoyevsky depicted with remarkable insight the depth and complexity of the human soul. In this literary classic, he focuses on a nobleman, whose gentle, child-like nature has earned him the nickname of "the idiot."A superb, panoramic view of mid-19th-century Russian manners, morals and philosophy.
Publisher: Cutchogue, N.Y. : Buccaneer Books, c1976
Edition: Key record
ISBN: 9780899666273
Characteristics: 586 p. : ill


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Sep 04, 2014

THE GIST: "The Idiot" by Fyodor Dostoevsky follows the titular “idiot” (contextually meaning a naïve simpleton), Prince Myshkin, who is dropped headfirst from safe isolation into the scheming and conniving streets of 19th century Russian society. Myshkin is caught in a love triangle between the hypnotic beauty Nastasya Filipovna and young rebel Aglaya Epanchin, and various complications transform the scandal into an example of society and its effects on the innocent.

The Idiot is a brilliant exploration of innocence in the face of unforgiving contemporary society that unfortunately falls flat on its face once it turns into a full blown soap opera after its first act.

The first hundred pages of the novel is one of the only parts of a philosophical book I have considered page turners. Each tidbit Dostoevsky’s characters express is easily accessible yet powerful enough to change views on some parts of life. Common social issues such as crime and capital punishment are explored along with bigger themes like greed, money, ego, love, and innocence. Myshkin is the star of the show here, being perhaps the most likable and identifiable character in literary history, and you can’t help but root for him in face (or maybe because) of his idiocy. In fact, all the remarkably written characters are stars, each character playing a defined role that fit nicely into the crevices of the plot.

Unfortunately, the metaphorical cogs fall apart and become a huge mess after the grand beginning. The love triangle feels forced and dull, with the social commentary in the first part being replaced in the second with a confusing and unsatisfying love story. One redeeming factor of the abysmal last two thirds of the book is the character Ippolit, a terminally ill teenage nihilist, who adds a fresh dynamic against the Prince, but unfortunately fades away after five or so chapters to give way to the yawn-inducing “who will he chose?” storyline.

In spite of the dry romance, the first part of “The Idiot” was Dostoevsky’s “Amazing Grace” that saved the wretch of its last two-thirds. Without it, you might as well be watching “The Bachelor.” 6/10

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