Possibly more than any other 19th-Century European novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky continues to tie his readers into knots of psychic suspense. His heroes--the Underground Man, the murderer Raskolnikov, the demonic Stavrogin, the Grand Inquisitor, Ivan Karamazov--unfold their questions, quandaries, and rebellions and, in the process, remain uncannily contemporary.
Dostoevsky himself runs a close second to his characters in perennial fascination. No general rule requires a novelist's life to be as colorful and dramatic as his characters', but among his Russian contemporaries Dostoevsky easily won the prize. His youthful involvement in revolutionary conspiracy led to a death sentence commuted on the scaffold to Siberian prison and exile. Succeeding stages in his career, though somewhat less theatrical, were full of turmoil and contradiction. The epileptic compulsive gambler and tormented lover was also a devoted father and husband (in his second marriage), a molder of public opinion, and a prolific and popular novelist, though never a clear frontrunner in the field. (His rivals were Turgenev and, of course, Tolstoy.) Moreover, new facets of his character and life continue to emerge.
Geir Kjetsaa's biography, translated from Norwegian, is a useful addition to Dostoevskiana in English. A distinguished scholar, Kjetsaa is also a gifted storyteller who does not disdain the gossipy but revealing anecdote. Eminently readable, his book is for the reader who wants a lively, intelligent summary of Dostoevsky's career.