The Idiot by Fydor Dostoevsky

“Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 780 pages.
Re-read from April 28, 2021 to May 25, 2021.
First read December 21, 2010 to December 28, 2010.

I never imagined that I would be rereading this classic novel 10 years down the road, however, reading this novel the second time around and with a book club gave me even more appreciation for the author and the story.

Small crew to discuss this book but the group leader got us some great mugs with which I then proceeded to drink my beer out of.

First published in 1869, the English translation wasn’t available for this book until the early 20th century. The Idiot begins with the protagonist Myshkin arriving back in Russia after a stint at a Swiss sanitorium. Perceived as an ‘idiot’ for both his epilepsy, honesty, kindness, and naivety Myshkin attempts to navigate Russia high society. Surrounded by greed, lust, drama, and power-hungry individuals, it’s no wonder Myshkin is perceived as an idiot by his peers. However, his otherworldly perspective and kindness do not go unnoticed, drawing his attention to two very different women with which, he will falls in love with them both.

The question that seems to be raised by Dostoevsky is that is it possible for someone to be completely authentic, honest, genuine, and kind without bringing ruin to others and specifically themselves? The Idiot appears to hold a mirror up to Russian society in the late 19th century which, as an exceptional realist writer, Dostoevsky pulls off beautifully. The highlights of the book come from Myshkin’s interactions with the female characters and antagonist, it’s where you feel the most invested in the book. The faults with this book are its length and an extensive cast of characters that, due to Russian naming, makes them difficult to keep track of. Each character serves a purpose in showing the faults and varying virtues of Russian society to give a deeper idea of Myshkin and his ideals. The story also makes extensive references to Christianity and Dostoevsky’s personal views on religion. The novel itself ends tragically which, is no surprise there as many Russian novels do, especially Dostoevsky’s.

While The Idiot made less of an impact on me than Crime and Punishment it is still a unique piece of Dostoevsky’s work that appears to be more personal than his other writings. While the length of the book is somewhat off-putting it made for an exceptional book club discussion. It may not be a book for your average reader but if you enjoy classics, Russian literature, or historical fiction you will find value in this book.

Baptism of Fire by Andrzej Sapkowski

“A baptism of fire, the Witcher thought, furiously striking and parrying blows. I was meant to pass through fire for Ciri. And I’m passing through fire in a battle which is of no interest to me at all. Which I don’t understand in any way. The fire that was meant to purify me is just scorching my hair and face.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 288 pages.
Read from March 15, 2021 to March 22, 2021.

Next to The Last Wish, this has been my favourite Witcher book in the series so far.

Geralt has found himself in quite a predicament. He almost died after the Wizard’s Guild fell and has been separated from Ciri. He is recovering from his injuries in the Brokilon forest, of which he is a rare male exemption amongst the female dryads. While Geralt is nowhere near healed, he must find Ciri as rumours are circulating of her capture and impending marriage to the Emperor. Little does he know that the Ciri in the Niflgaardian court is an imposter. The real Ciri has found the company of thieves and has managed to keep her identity a secret, for now. Despite Geralt’s desperate situation he attempts to maintain his gruff lone wolf mentality by trying to shrug off some very unique companions as well as finding himself involved in a battle he wanted no part in.

The story in this book really revived the series for me and makes me want to replay and rewatch the games and TV show (especially before the second season starts this Christmas). Geralt is a stubborn brute and I love him for it. The character work and Geralt’s internal conflict in questioning who he is a Witcher and what he stands for as well as his interactions with his new, and generally unwanted, companions that stick with him through thick and thin are what make this book one of the best in the series. His new companions are robust and dynamic characters that I fell in love with immediately and the surprise reveal of one of them really caught me and had me loving and appreciating this story even more.

The books, games and TV shows are each such innovative takes on Geralt’s path and the Witcher world. With any other series, I might be annoyed at the discrepancies and inconsistencies with character appearances and the chosen focused storylines, however, with the Witcher I’ve really enjoyed each medium’s differing takes on Geralt’s story, the characters that he meets, and the trouble he finds himself in.

A highly recommended read for fantasy lovers, it’s definitely worth reading the whole series just to get to this book. Here’s hoping the next book continues to impress.

My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk

“The beauty and mystery of this world only emerges through affection, attention, interest and compassion . . . open your eyes wide and actually see this world by attending to its colors, details and irony.”

3/5 stars.
Paperback, 508 pages.
Read from January 10, 2021 to January 18, 2021.

This book has been on my TBR list for years and while it was supposed to be a selection for the book club I’m in it was changed due to it being a bit too long for a monthly selection. I decided that I would still take the opportunity to read it as it had been on my list for so long.

My Name is Red is a unique piece that manages to interweave a murder-mystery plot with a love story, that takes place in a historical setting, that also pays tribute to the creation and development of Ottoman art and culture in the shadow of the West and influence. The result? A finely crafted piece of literature. The story revolves around a group of miniaturists, one of whom is murdered. One of the three remaining artists is responsible but you won’t find out who until the end. Miniaturists were artists that would work together to paint manuscripts and within the Ottoman empire, these works were often a collaboration with a head artist coming up with the plan and outline and passing off the remaining work to apprentices. These manuscripts, despite their beauty, were rarely signed by their creators which, differs greatly from the Western traditions of art. This is one of the main points of conflict in the book as some of the artists are under coming under this new Western influence. As the murder mystery unfolds, a love story also takes hold that counterbalances some of the violence in the story as well as the more factual artistic and historical references. Pamuk’s writing style and unique narrative approach are elegant, poetic, and complete with wonderful and memorable quotes that leave a lasting mark.

“Colour is the touch of the eye, music to the deaf, a word out of the darkness.”

My Name is Red is an outstanding piece of literature that brings awareness to the culture and art of the Ottoman’s in the 15th century. However, if this is not an area you’re familiar with, it can make the book harder to appreciate or understand. Don’t let that stop you from reading this book though as it is a meticulously written novel that has a beautiful read with an immensely captivating story. Books like this one, help to turn attention to places that produced phenomenal art that was generally overlooked within the Western canon.

“In actuality, we don’t look for smiles in pictures of bliss, but rather, for the happiness in life itself. Painters know this, but this is preciously what they cannot depict. That’s why they substitute the joy of seeing for the joy of life.”

My three-star rating has to do more with my own reading experience as I wish I had done a little bit of prior research just before picking up this book. I would recommend these steps for maximum enjoyment before reading this novel. Knowing what a miniaturist is a good place to start as well as getting a visual for what types of works these artists produced and how they were used and read. Thankfully, Wikipedia has a decent summary that won’t eat too much of your time. A highly recommended read for historical fiction lovers and anyone with an art appreciation.