The Idiot

Modigliani: Boy

Last year at the end of November, I decided to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. I had always wanted to read The Idiot, but after having gone to Wiesbaden, I was pretty close to reading The Gambler instead. Nevertheless, I was still convinced that I would relate more to an idiot than a gambler, and so I chose The Idiot.

After about two weeks of intense reading, I was totally absorbed by the story. Dostoevsky has an incredible power of description and to detail the psychology of a large number of characters right from the beginning. This unfortunately is also a problem. Reading Dostoevsky (like Tolsoy) requires great dedication and concentration. It is like going to the gym. Once you miss a day or two, you have to start all over from the beginning. And that is what precisely happened to me with The Idiot. At the beginning of December 2005, I was busy for a few days and was not able to read. Those two days turned into a month, and the next thing I knew, I was engulfed in working at FON — where amongst another 19 things, I did not have time to continue with Prince Mishkin’s tale. So I had left the Prince a little more than a third into his story (around page 320). Allow me to continue:

Then early last month, I remembered how much I had enjoyed The Idiot, so I decided to pick up the book again. Nevertheless, I was unable to take up where I had left off (I simply couldn’t remember all of the characters’ names and backgrounds). Starting from the beginning seemed like too much of a time constraint, so I bought the audiobook. The audiobook is an unabriged version of the story and is approximately 20 hours long. I figured that I could get back up to speed and also continue to listen to the book while flying home for Christmas.

Interestingly enough, while listening to The Idiot, I was immediately reminded of the characters. Strangely though, I had a much greater recollection of the beginning of the story than I did as it moved along. Theoretically, it should be the other way around — I should remember more where I left off than where I had started from further back in time. I suppose that we actually retain information greater that is farther in the past. Go figure?

Coincidentally, once I had gotten back into Prince Mishkin’s world (about right at the point where I had left off one year ago), my brother came and we went off to Marrakech and I began watching Arrested Development; hence leaving the Prince on his own for two weeks. Last night, I felt bad for the Prince and for the cost of the audiobook and thus returned to his tale. Hopefully, I will be able to make it through the next 12 hours without any major setbacks or interruptions. Yet, it is funny how history repeats itself, just as it does eternally within the pages of a novel.

In any event, within the pages of The Idiot (which was written in 1869), you can find one of the most convincing arguments against capital punishment. I highly recommend this book, at least the first third. End of story, for now.

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Filed under Digressions, Literature

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