From the acclaimed translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky comes a new translation of the first great prison memoir: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fictionalized account of his life-changing penal servitude in Siberia.
In 1849 Dostoevsky was sentenced to four years at hard labor in a Siberian prison camp for his participation in a utopian socialist discussion group. The account he wrote after his release, based on notes he smuggled out, was the first book to reveal life inside the Russian penal system. The book not only brought him fame but also founded the tradition of Russian prison writing.
Notes from a Dead House (sometimes translated as The House of the Dead) is filled with vivid details of brutal punishments, shocking conditions, feuds and betrayals, and the psychological effects of the loss of freedom, but it also describes moments of comedy and acts of kindness. There are grotesque bathhouse and hospital scenes that seem to have come straight from Dante’s Inferno, alongside daring escape attempts, doomed acts of defiance, and a theatrical Christmas celebration that draws the entire community together in a temporary suspension of their grim reality.
To get past government censors, Dostoevsky made his narrator a common-law criminal rather than a political prisoner, but the perspective is unmistakably his own. His incarceration was a transformative experience that nourished all his later works, particularly Crime and Punishment. Dostoevsky’s narrator discovers that even among the most debased criminals there are strong and beautiful souls. His story reveals the prison as a tragedy both for the inmates and for Russia; it is, finally, a profound meditation on freedom: “The prisoner himself knows that he is a prisoner; but no brands, no fetters will make him forget that he is a human being.”
Fyodor Mikailovich Dostoevsky’s life was as dark and dramatic as the great novels he wrote. He was born in Moscow in 1821. A short first novel, Poor Folk (1846), brought him instant success, but his writing career was cut short by his… More about Fyodor Dostoevsky
“Excellent. . . . Dostoevsky’s constant preoccupation is the meaning of human freedom and the prisoners’ preservation of their dignity.” —Harper’s Magazine
“A priceless addition to the literature of the penal experience. . . . A master of psychological portraiture. . . . A testament to the power of the human will, the way it can marshal patience and imagination and hope against the most nightmarish assaults on human dignity.” —The New Criterion
“One of the most harrowingly universal books Dostoevsky ever wrote. . . . It’s cause for no small celebration that the extraordinary series of translations by Pevear and Volokhonsky has now seized on Notes from The House of the Dead.” —The Buffalo News
“The appearance of any new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is always an event in a literary season. . . . [A] powerful new translation.” —Open Letters Monthly
“One of literature’s definitive prison memoirs. . . . A classic made current and a welcome addition to the library of Russian literature in translation.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Dostoevsky unflinchingly describes the dehumanization of prison, such as the way fetters were not even lifted from the dying, but also conveys how the flame of humanity survives even under such conditions, allowing cleverness and compassion to endure. This new translation is eminently readable.” —Publishers Weekly