The Master of Petersburg

The Master of Petersburg

eBook - 1994
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Penguin Putnam
J.M. Coetzee's latest novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, is now available from Viking. Late Essays: 2006-2016 will be available January 2018. 

In the fall of 1869 Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, lately a resident of Germany, is summoned back to St. Petersburg by the sudden death of his stepson, Pavel. Half crazed with grief, stricken by epileptic seizures, and erotically obsessed with his stepson's landlady, Dostoevsky is nevertheless intent on unraveling the enigma of Pavel's life. Was the boy a suicide or a murder victim? Did he love his stepfather or despise him? Was he a disciple of the revolutionary Nechaev, who even now is somewhere in St. Petersburg pursuing a dream of apocalyptic violence? As he follows his stepson's ghost—and becomes enmeshed in the same demonic conspiracies that claimed the boy—Dostoevsky emerges as a figure of unfathomable contradictions: naive and calculating, compassionate and cruel, pious and unspeakably perverse.

Publisher: New York : Viking, 1994
ISBN: 9781524705534
Branch Call Number: eBook
Characteristics: 1 online resource
text file
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc

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RogerDeBlanck Jul 27, 2018

In his novel The Master of Petersburg, Coetzee moves away from the violence and excoriating politics of South Africa to draw loosely on a tragic event in the turbulent life of the great Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Coetzee makes Dostoevsky his own character by imagining his grief over the death of his stepson, Pavel. Coetzee portrays Dostoevsky as a haunted man, lost and unstable, hallucinatory and irritable. He suffers epileptic fits of guilt-stricken bereavement, believing he contributed to the boy’s death because he did not play a larger role in his life. A torn and lachrymose man, Coetzee’s Dostoevsky battles shame and despair. He cannot reconcile his failures against any of his successes. In his time of anguish over Pavel, his motives and actions can be questioned while at the same time understood as he finds himself crumbling with lust and desire for the woman his stepson rented a room from. He struggles with mood swings, and he goes from kindness to cruelty and elation to depression, as he tries to convince himself he’s mourning when what he’s doing is exploiting the sympathy others have for him. More than a character study, Coetzee also expertly captures the feverish Russian mood prior to the revolutionary period. He explores the demonizing effects of the radical ideologies, which are portrayed as infectious diseases that feast on the minds of the younger generation, possessing them with spells of madness capable of murder. The book’s setting drives home the extremism of the possessed during a tumultuous era in Russian history. Reflective of nearly all of Coetzee’s novels, The Master of Petersburg is full of philosophical ideas woven seamlessly into the flow of the narrative. This is a fascinating portrait of a great writer pushed to the limits of sanity and insecurity as an aggrieved father.

u
uncommonreader
May 31, 2014

Set in 1869, this is the story of Dostoevsky returning to Petersburg from his self-imposed exile in Dresden upon the death (murder? suicide?) of his stepson who had become involved with the anarchist Nechaev. Dostoevsky stays in his son's apartment, wears his clothes, and develops relationships with his friends and acquaintances. The novel becomes a mediation on a writer's powers, responsibilities and what he must sacrifice to write. It is a dark and grim novel written in the style of Dostoevsky. Once again, there is too much of Coetzee displaying his cleverness.

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