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.

Obit by Victoria Chang

“The obituary writer said that the obituary is the moment when a someone becomes history.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 115 pages.
Read from September 10, 2020 to Sept 14, 2020 and from November 19, 2020 to November 27, 2020

The beautiful thing about reading is that it plays many roles and serves a multitude of purposes. Reading allows everything from escapism to learning, opening up your mind to a new world view or a way to open up your heart to feelings you’ve compartmentalised. Especially good poetry, that seems to be its specialty.

“The way grief is really about future absences.”

p. 18, Obit

I can’t remember how I found this book. It feels like it found me. The first time I read it was nearing the one year anniversary of a death that I had still hadn’t come to terms with. I read the book, noted its form, and enjoyed its content. I even related to it but it wasn’t enough to pull me out of the protective grief-shell of denial I had surrounded myself in. The second time I decided to read this book, the anniversary was fresh but had passed but something had changed in that time. It’s like I was finally able to process some of my grief because just enough time had passed making the pain less sharp. I was able to drop my shell, just a little bit.

When I revisited this book for the second time it was with unclouded eyes and a heart that was little bit more open to the pain and beauty it would bring.

The way our sadness is plural, but grief singular.

p. 32, Obit

Obit is written in the style of a newspaper obituary with each section detailing the death of the author’s mother, the grief and pain of her father’s dementia, as well as parts of herself as it too died. Written in the freshness of the loss of her mother, Victoria Chang spent the next two week putting her grief and all of her losses into words in the form of obituaries. Having now lost both of her parents, her father first, her words carry the weight of the author’s loss. She discusses the shared familiarity of sadness yet the loneliness of grief. The otherness she shares with her family and her friends as well as the discussions she has with her children take shape within the poems. She also discusses the loss of different parts of her father literally as well as through carefully thought out metaphors as she slowly loses the man she knew to dementia.

It’s true, the grieving speak a different language. I am separated from my friends by gauze. I will drive myself to my own house for the party. I will make small talk with myself, spill a drink on myself. When it’s all over, I will drive myself back to my own home.

p. 23, Obit

Maybe that’s what happens when language fails, a last breath inward but no breath outward. A state of holding one’s breath forever but not dying.

p. 20, Obit

This small book of poetry sums up grief in a concise way that really only those who know loss will understand. It’s healing and refreshing to know that though our grief is unique and can’t be shared at least there are some relatable features in its loneliness.

The men had dug up the dirt stood with their shovels and waited. I looked at their eyes for and sign of drowning. Then I noticed that one man’s body didn’t have a shadow. And when he walked away, the grass didn’t flatten. His shovel was clean. I suddenly recognised this man as love.

p.22, Obit

The format that Chang has chosen takes on a numb familiarity which not unlike the numbness that comes with the immediacy of fresh grief. The writing feels formal like an obituary but is the opposite of many obituaries in its honest emotion.

Like grief, the way it dangles from everything like earrings. The way grief needs oxygen. The way every once in a while, it catches the light and starts smoking. The way my grief will die with me. The way it will cleave and grow like antlers.”

p. 50, Obit

Chang acknowledges how grief changes a person, how there is no going back from this loss that feels so earth-shattering and how grief becomes this ever changing omnipresent entity in your life that you have so little control over.

To acknowledge death is to acknowledge that we must take another shape.

p. 28, Obit

I don’t remember the last time a book of poetry so aptly captured such raw feelings, especially my own. Chang writes in such a concise and visceral manner that makes her approach to grief accessible for even those who are stone-resolved in denying it. Chang’s work is a stunning tribute to grief. It’s personal and intimate yet highly relatable. I would recommend this book to anyone going through the grieving process, no matter where you’re sitting with it.