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The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece

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From the New York Times bestselling author of THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK, the true story behind the creation of another masterpiece of world literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. THE SINNER AND THE SAINT is the deeply researched and immersive tale of how Dostoevsky came to write this great murder story--and why it changed the world. As a young man, Dostoevsky From the New York Times bestselling author of THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK, the true story behind the creation of another masterpiece of world literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. THE SINNER AND THE SAINT is the deeply researched and immersive tale of how Dostoevsky came to write this great murder story--and why it changed the world. As a young man, Dostoevsky was a celebrated writer, but his involvement with the radical politics of his day condemned him to a long Siberian exile. There, he spent years studying the criminals that were his companions. Upon his return to St. Petersburg in the 1860s, he fought his way through gambling addiction, debilitating debt, epilepsy, the deaths of those closest to him, and literary banishment to craft an enduring classic. The germ of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT came from the sensational story of Pierre Fran�ois Lacenaire, a notorious murderer who charmed and outraged Paris in the 1830s. Lacenaire was a glamorous egoist who embodied the instincts that lie beneath nihilism, a western-influenced philosophy inspiring a new generation of Russian revolutionaries. Dostoevsky began creating a Russian incarnation of Lacenaire, a character who could demonstrate the errors of radical politics and ideas. His name would be Raskolnikov. Lacenaire shaped Raskolnikov in profound ways, but the deeper insight, as Birmingham shows, is that Raskolnikov began to merge with Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was determined to tell a murder story from the murderer's perspective, but his character couldn't be a monster. No. The murderer would be chilling because he wants so desperately to be good. The writing consumed Dostoevsky. As his debts and the predatory terms of his contract caught up with him, he hired a stenographer to dictate the final chapters in time. Anna Grigorievna became Dostoevsky's first reader and chief critic and changed the way he wrote forever. By the time Dostoevsky finished his great novel, he had fallen in love. Dostoevsky's great subject was self-consciousness. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT advanced a revolution in artistic thinking and began the greatest phase of Dostoevsky's career. THE SINNER AND THE SAINT now gives us the thrilling and definitive story of that triumph.


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From the New York Times bestselling author of THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK, the true story behind the creation of another masterpiece of world literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. THE SINNER AND THE SAINT is the deeply researched and immersive tale of how Dostoevsky came to write this great murder story--and why it changed the world. As a young man, Dostoevsky From the New York Times bestselling author of THE MOST DANGEROUS BOOK, the true story behind the creation of another masterpiece of world literature, Fyodor Dostoevsky's CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. THE SINNER AND THE SAINT is the deeply researched and immersive tale of how Dostoevsky came to write this great murder story--and why it changed the world. As a young man, Dostoevsky was a celebrated writer, but his involvement with the radical politics of his day condemned him to a long Siberian exile. There, he spent years studying the criminals that were his companions. Upon his return to St. Petersburg in the 1860s, he fought his way through gambling addiction, debilitating debt, epilepsy, the deaths of those closest to him, and literary banishment to craft an enduring classic. The germ of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT came from the sensational story of Pierre Fran�ois Lacenaire, a notorious murderer who charmed and outraged Paris in the 1830s. Lacenaire was a glamorous egoist who embodied the instincts that lie beneath nihilism, a western-influenced philosophy inspiring a new generation of Russian revolutionaries. Dostoevsky began creating a Russian incarnation of Lacenaire, a character who could demonstrate the errors of radical politics and ideas. His name would be Raskolnikov. Lacenaire shaped Raskolnikov in profound ways, but the deeper insight, as Birmingham shows, is that Raskolnikov began to merge with Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was determined to tell a murder story from the murderer's perspective, but his character couldn't be a monster. No. The murderer would be chilling because he wants so desperately to be good. The writing consumed Dostoevsky. As his debts and the predatory terms of his contract caught up with him, he hired a stenographer to dictate the final chapters in time. Anna Grigorievna became Dostoevsky's first reader and chief critic and changed the way he wrote forever. By the time Dostoevsky finished his great novel, he had fallen in love. Dostoevsky's great subject was self-consciousness. CRIME AND PUNISHMENT advanced a revolution in artistic thinking and began the greatest phase of Dostoevsky's career. THE SINNER AND THE SAINT now gives us the thrilling and definitive story of that triumph.

30 review for The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece

  1. 4 out of 5

    Terese

    Full disclosure: I am something of a Dostoevsky fanatic. I will read anything by and about him. I once read a book about the books he read while writing “The brothers Karamazov”. I named my dog for one of his characters. THIS book is right up my alley and when I received an ARC from Penguin Press I squealed with delight. This book is, as it says in the cover, about the crime that inspired Dostoevsky to write one of his absolute master pieces, it is also a book about what was going on in Dostoevsk Full disclosure: I am something of a Dostoevsky fanatic. I will read anything by and about him. I once read a book about the books he read while writing “The brothers Karamazov”. I named my dog for one of his characters. THIS book is right up my alley and when I received an ARC from Penguin Press I squealed with delight. This book is, as it says in the cover, about the crime that inspired Dostoevsky to write one of his absolute master pieces, it is also a book about what was going on in Dostoevsky’s life at that point and how the story of C&P evolved meanwhile. For me, the biographical parts didn’t really hold a lot of news, I am familiar with Dostoevsky’s life events already, that said Birmingham really knows how to spin a narrative. Even knowing the details already, I was engrossed in the narrative and appreciated the focus on e.g. the condition of publishing in tsarist Russia and the people around Dostoevsky who also contributed to the intellectual climate, more so than him in some cases. Basically, Birmingham is a really good author and knows how to pace a story and how to interweave parts that don’t obviously belong (Lacenaire, more on that later). When the book wrapped up at a very natural stopping point, I was so wrapped up in the story that I was completely stunned and fully prepared for an equally detailed continuation of the rest of Dostoevsky’s life and literary works (I am here for the sequels, in other words). Now, to what was new to me - the Lacenaire case. It was really interesting, and though it was a bit jarring at times to jump back and forth between him and Dostoevsky, partly because Lacenaire was such a worlds-apart kind of personality, but I loved seeing this story and contemplating (not like Dostoevsky contemplating the psychology of a murderer) but the psychology of the general public who love to consume gruesome murder stories, including me. Lacenaire, and many other old cases, really prove that the “craze” for true crime content lately is not a new thing at all, people have always been nuts for these things and it is immensely fascinating, especially in the case of a “gentleman” murderer whose personality seems somehow attractive rather than appalling to people. It was interesting to see the development of Raskolnikov next to the person of Lacenaire and consider Dostoevsky’s purpose and meaning with his own work (which I felt was highlighted in the incongruence Birmingham presented here). All in all, the writing is accessible but beautiful in style, to the reader not familiar with Russia at the time there will be plenty of interesting information, Dostoevsky’s life is fascinating and gripping, and the true crime is like a bit of spice in the mix. A must for die hard C&P fans and a treat for the casual ones. I love seeing how regular things, like a newspaper story, can influence a creative mind and emanate into a masterpiece. It is a reminder that a brilliant mind is as contingent as the rest of us. This will look good on my Dostoevsky shelf eventually. Thank you to NetGalley and Penguin Press for this pre-release copy!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Crime and Punishment is a murder mystery, though the mystery isn’t who killed the pawnbroker and her sister. The mystery is why. from The Sinner and the Saint by Kevin Birmingham I was intrigued by the idea of The Sinner and the Saint, this biography/literary criticism/history/true crime book, and found it enjoyable and rewarding reading. As a biography of Dostoyevsky, I was astonished by his life. He was plagued by poverty and ill health and epilepsy, and cheated by his publishers. He became invo Crime and Punishment is a murder mystery, though the mystery isn’t who killed the pawnbroker and her sister. The mystery is why. from The Sinner and the Saint by Kevin Birmingham I was intrigued by the idea of The Sinner and the Saint, this biography/literary criticism/history/true crime book, and found it enjoyable and rewarding reading. As a biography of Dostoyevsky, I was astonished by his life. He was plagued by poverty and ill health and epilepsy, and cheated by his publishers. He became involved with radical thinkers. He was arrested by the tsar for treason, nearly executed, and sent to Siberia where he studied criminals up close, eliciting them to share their grisly stories. The description of life in Siberia is very affecting. Russia had no prisons, and convict labor in Siberian mines fueled massive wealth. After four years in prison, Dostoyevsky was required to serve in the Army. He and his brother then tried to run magazines, which failed. He tried gambling in a desperate bid for solvency. The tsar kept tight control with censorship of newspapers, magazines, and books, and yet Dostoyevsky wrote some of the greatest novels ever written. Russia was in turmoil, reform movements and radicalism spurring the tsar to authoritarianism. One philosophy was to believe in nothing–nilhism. When a man who tried to assassinate the tsar was asked by the tsar what he wanted, he replied “nothing.” The French murderer Lacenaire, unapologetic and enjoying his notoriety, inspired Dostoyevsky’s character of Raskolnikov. Lacenaire’s wealthy family lost their fortune. He was expelled from schools and hated his jobs, and took up gambling while trying to write. He adopted a philosophy of egoism and decided to become an outlaw. He had no remorse for the murders he committed and met his execution with impersonal interest. The murderer fascinated Dostoyevsky. He decided to write a murder story from the viewpoint of the murderer. A man who kills for no reason, for nothing. He would not be a monster, he would be someone we could understand. Dostoyevsky’s novel is about how ideas inspire and deceive, how they coil themselves around sadness and feed on bitter fruit.(…)It is about how ideas change us and how they make us more of who we already are.from The Sinner and the Saint by Kevin Birmingham I enjoyed the book on many levels: learning about Russia under the tsar and the philosophical and political ideas that arose in 19th c Russia; as a biography of Dostoyevsky; for its discussion of Russian literature; and as a vehicle to understand Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece, Crime and Punishment. I received a free egalley from the publisher though NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Christine Liu

    Dostoevsky lived a difficult and fascinating life with enough tragedy and suffering to rival some of his greatest fictional creations. His remarkable talent as a writer launched him into literary renown at an early age with the publication of his novella, Poor Folk. But the next period of his life was marked by critical failure, debt, and subversive political activity that culminated in being brought before a firing squad and then exiled to a Siberian prison camp. The Sinner and the Saint by Kevi Dostoevsky lived a difficult and fascinating life with enough tragedy and suffering to rival some of his greatest fictional creations. His remarkable talent as a writer launched him into literary renown at an early age with the publication of his novella, Poor Folk. But the next period of his life was marked by critical failure, debt, and subversive political activity that culminated in being brought before a firing squad and then exiled to a Siberian prison camp. The Sinner and the Saint by Kevin Birmingham is a new book that chronicles the genesis of Crime and Punishment, the novel which heralded the start of Dowtoevsky’s most prodigious period of creative outpouring. It’s also the story of Pierre-François Lacenaire, an aspiring French poet whose notoriously cold-blooded murder of a man and his elderly mother for their money in 1834 gave Dostoevsky some of the details of his most well known plot (and also inspired Hugo, Stendhal, Balzac, Baudelaire, and Flaubert.) The narrative is divided into three sections. Part I offers a few glimpses into Dostoevsky’s early life, then details his subsequent foray into fiction writing and fateful involvement with the Petrashevsky Circle, a group of literary progressives who promoted ideas of social reform that the tsar found intolerably offensive. Part II chronicles the four years he spent in Siberia as well as his subsequent return to St. Petersburg and his process of reestablishing himself as a writer in a rapidly changing Russia. Part III concerns the reactions to Crime and Punishment once it began to appear in print and provides a skillful dissection of why this novel had the impact it did and still continues to today. Interspersed throughout are chapters about Larcenaire and the trail of criminal schemes he concocted before he was apprehended and brought to justice by the French police, although I would have gotten just as much out of this book if all the information on Lacenaire was condensed and kept to an isolated, shorter section in the beginning. That Dostoevsky was familiar with Lacenaire’s crimes and took inspiration from them to craft the psychology of his protagonist is clear, but this book is compelling enough just as a biographical work on Dostoevsky without the interweaving of details of Lacenaire’s life. You definitely don’t need to have read Crime and Punishment to appreciate this book. In fact, I would recommend this as a great introduction for anyone who hasn’t read Dostoevsky but is interested in why his contributions to literature are held in such high regard. It’s also a gripping and fascinating history of the sociopolitical climate of Russia during the mid-19th century.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Elisabeth (Bouquins & Books)

    In this book, Birmingham examines the creation of one of Dostoyevsky's uncontested masterpieces, Crime and Punishment. It is part a biography of Dostoyevsky (though far from complete because it focuses on the years leading up to the writing of Crime and Punishment and does not go beyond), part true crime about Pierre-François Lacenaire, a French murderer whose case inspired (supposedly) Dostoyevsky. I really liked this book, though I think it has one major flaw. The thesis set out in the subtitle In this book, Birmingham examines the creation of one of Dostoyevsky's uncontested masterpieces, Crime and Punishment. It is part a biography of Dostoyevsky (though far from complete because it focuses on the years leading up to the writing of Crime and Punishment and does not go beyond), part true crime about Pierre-François Lacenaire, a French murderer whose case inspired (supposedly) Dostoyevsky. I really liked this book, though I think it has one major flaw. The thesis set out in the subtitle and in the opening chapters is that Lacenaire was the main inspiration behind Crime and Punishment. However, this not what the author goes on to do. Some chapters are devoted to Lacenaire (not many, which is a good thing), while most are devoted to Dostoyevsky and Russia. There is very little interplay between theses chapters. They appear to be independent stories. Moreover, Birmingham ends up demonstrating that Crime and Punishment was born of a long gestation and stems from multiple inspirations : the murder of Dostoyevsky's father, Dostoyevsky's imprisonment in Siberia alongside murderers and other criminals, various crime stories in Russia and elsewhere, the rise of nihilism, etc. The cases of Lacenaire is just one of many elements that lead to the writing of Crime and Punishment. Despite this discrepancy between expectations and result, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Though the chapters on Lacenaire left me somewhat lukewarm, I loved all those that concerned Dostoyevsky and Russia. They bring to light the difficult circumstances in which Dostoyevsky lived. They also show how different 19 century Russia was from 19 century France or Britain, and the difference is stark. In some aspects, Russia was still a medieval society (serfdom, rudimentary judicial system, inexistence of State institutions beyond the tsar...). It is no wonder there are so many tortured souls in Russian literature. The friction between modern ideas held by many writers and traditional Russian society could only create sparks. By the end of this book, I wanted to read or reread all of Dostoyevsky's works. And that is an excellent result.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    An accessible and compelling look at Dostoevsky's early life, times and the circumstances that brought about his masterpiece, "Crime and Punishment". Birmingham's research and writing lays bare the extraordinary historical literary constraints of Russia at the time, and the straightened situation that Dostoevsky found himself in, in the lead up to penning this classic. Some of the facts that Birmingham shares (Russia had little or no literary tradition before early/mid 19th century, also had no f An accessible and compelling look at Dostoevsky's early life, times and the circumstances that brought about his masterpiece, "Crime and Punishment". Birmingham's research and writing lays bare the extraordinary historical literary constraints of Russia at the time, and the straightened situation that Dostoevsky found himself in, in the lead up to penning this classic. Some of the facts that Birmingham shares (Russia had little or no literary tradition before early/mid 19th century, also had no formal legal code until the 1830s) left me simply slack-jawed with astonishment. An absolutely fascinating book from beginning to end.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ricky Marshall

    I really couldn’t get enough of this one. My only wish was that it was longer.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Murray

    The Sinner and the Saint by Kevin Birmingham is a colourful and lively portrait of the writing of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky which playful interweaves the politics of the time, with the life of the author, and the life and crimes of French criminal Pierre Francois Lacenaire, a likely influence for Crime and Punishment. The Sinner and the Saint will appeal to those who enjoy stories of individual’s succeeding against adversity, history, true crime, and fan's of Dostoevsky himself. The Sinner and the Saint by Kevin Birmingham is a colourful and lively portrait of the writing of Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky which playful interweaves the politics of the time, with the life of the author, and the life and crimes of French criminal Pierre Francois Lacenaire, a likely influence for Crime and Punishment. The Sinner and the Saint will appeal to those who enjoy stories of individual’s succeeding against adversity, history, true crime, and fan's of Dostoevsky himself. Birmingham writes beautifully. He creates consistent and compelling momentum jumping between his subjects. This is an inspiring and uplifting story of success and a wonderful motivation to read further into the complicated life of a literary giant.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jillian

    Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book was a great peek into Dostoevsky’s life as he wrote one of my favorite high school English books, Crime and Punishment. I did not know or remember a lot about Dostoevsky so it was fun to revisit the book. It was also rather interesting to learn that he was inspired by Lacenaire’s infamous murder for his own novel. Overall, I enjoyed the book, even though I felt like it could have been edited down quite a bit.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ray 노잠

    Fascinating and enthralling. One of the best reads of the year comes in at the eleventh hour.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    The fascinating story behind the creation of Crime and Punishment.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Christian

    Read as a great little biography of Dostoevsky, and the writing was pretty compelling. I knew some bits about his life, but I was on the edge of my seat grimacing over Dostoevsky gambling to try to make enough money to pay off his debts. Rooting for this guy was giving me so much anxiety!

  12. 4 out of 5

    3 Things About This Book

    I don’t think Dostoyevsky needed to go too far away to look for an inspiration to write Crime and Punishment, as the world around him was enough to feed him with ideas left and right. But I found it extremely exciting that I have something common with him: passion for true crime. Apparently America’s favorite pastime was Dostoyevsky’s favorite activity besides writing what’s know to be world classics and dreaming of good days for Mother Russia. This book could easily pass for an enjoyable history I don’t think Dostoyevsky needed to go too far away to look for an inspiration to write Crime and Punishment, as the world around him was enough to feed him with ideas left and right. But I found it extremely exciting that I have something common with him: passion for true crime. Apparently America’s favorite pastime was Dostoyevsky’s favorite activity besides writing what’s know to be world classics and dreaming of good days for Mother Russia. This book could easily pass for an enjoyable history book. You get to to understand Russia during Dostoyevsky’s time, his life, his struggles, his thought process, his relationship and also this once noble, now wanna be evil French axe murderer. The bits and pieces from these stories shaped up one of the greatest stories of all times. If you are not so into nonfiction like me but wouldn’t let it pass if you find a good one (especially about books and true crime), well, you got yourself a winner… because this is absolutely great 2 in 1.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Danielle | Dogmombookworm

    Crime and Punishment was the first book that I became wholly engrossed in when I took AP English in high school. And it was after reading Song of Solomon, same class, that I began to look at literature in a different way. I loved C+P and this book THE SINNER AND THE SAINT delves into the political and social climate (from an authoritarian state that relied on serfdom to opening up the country with modernity but in a non-European centric way) and historical time period's mentality (egoism, individ Crime and Punishment was the first book that I became wholly engrossed in when I took AP English in high school. And it was after reading Song of Solomon, same class, that I began to look at literature in a different way. I loved C+P and this book THE SINNER AND THE SAINT delves into the political and social climate (from an authoritarian state that relied on serfdom to opening up the country with modernity but in a non-European centric way) and historical time period's mentality (egoism, individualism, nihilism) that brings so much light to the time period Dostoevsky lived. It also manages to deftly give so much perspective on who Dostoevsky was (irascible, risk-prone, hailed genius to fallen angel). What I enjoyed most though was a blending of characters. As you might know, Dostoevsky was sent to Siberia for 4 years for his involvement with a radical circle. During imprisonment, he to the best of his abilities, extracted bits of character pieces that he could smuggle in his mind to be used later in his writing and explorations of "why" someone would be pushed to kill. Years later, D also became intrigued by a famous case of a French man (very abriefed summary) who cold-heartedly and with no apparent remorse later, who was convicted of murder and many instances of attempted murder/robbery. What Birmingham does so well in this book is merge the stories of Dostoevsky, his MC of Crime and Punishment - Raskolnikov, and this true killer - Lacenaire into a whirlwind psychological study of motives, character examination, and context. I was fascinated by this book and after 50 pages could not put it down. (4.5)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Clint Jones

    Any serious reader who has found themself saying: "I wish I'd known about that before I read...[insert novel here]!" -- that happy moment of eureka (and small regret) lies in store here. That's what great works are about, re-reading and building insights. Kevin Birmingham provides more tools to see clearer. Birmingham creates rare treasures. He constructs his work from literary history and biography, then tempers it with a lecturer's, and storyteller's valuable insight. He builds factual but emot Any serious reader who has found themself saying: "I wish I'd known about that before I read...[insert novel here]!" -- that happy moment of eureka (and small regret) lies in store here. That's what great works are about, re-reading and building insights. Kevin Birmingham provides more tools to see clearer. Birmingham creates rare treasures. He constructs his work from literary history and biography, then tempers it with a lecturer's, and storyteller's valuable insight. He builds factual but emotionally engaging scenes from Dostoevsky's exile to his relationship with Anna, while never losing sight of the core subject and how these events affected Dostoevsky's creation, Crime and Punishment. Its quality is consistent with his other fantastic book on Joyce's Ulysses, The Most Dangerous Book. Time and time again we find that well-known authors, from Fitzgerald to Joyce to Stevenson -- on and on -- could not have accomplished what they did without the partnership of the women in their lives. Dostoevsky's reliance on soon-to-be wife, Anna, is another example: ... she really had become integral to his creative process. She was his first reader, an astute one. She listened to his story, and listening is a great creative power. He began listening to her as well. Birmingham has a way of putting you in the room with an author, looking over their shoulder, highlightin styles and artistic decisions: People sometimes think of Dostoevsky as writing novels from the top down, beginning with an ideology he wished to explore and then looking for ways to dramatize it. But he almost always worked from the bottom up... The premise Birmingham states is unsettling: "Crime and Punishment is a novel about the trouble with ideas. It is not a novel of ideas." He elaborates: Nor is it the story of redemption from misguided thoughts and actions—the notion that Raskolnikov repents and finds God is one of the things that nearly everyone gets wrong about Crime and Punishment. The trouble with ideas is the way they interact with everything else that's human about us, things that have nothing to do with reason or evidence or theory. Raskolnikov personifies "trouble with ideas." Dostoevsky creates him from interviews with fellow-prisoners during his exile, and from the printed stories of true-life, engaging (and chilling) murderer, Pierre-François Lacenair, whose violent crimes were less harmful than "the doctrines and instructions he has left to people of his kind,"... Another intriguing fact is how Dostoevsky's poetic vision anticipated Dmitri Karakozov's nihilistic assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II, only months after the first installment of Crime and Punishment was published. What nihilistic "trouble with ideas" drives Raskolnikov to murder? Here it's compared to what drives a gambler, a subject Dostoevsky personally knew something about (quite possibly exacerbated as a side effect of his epilepsy). As with nihilism, the thrill of winning and of losing a gamble are the same: "It's the thrill of power, and of being crushed by power." And "... the other thrill of gambling is whisking everything off to the devil." Murdering isn't about high-mindedness at all. It's an idea that might seem to be worthy and properly calculated if the end justifies the means, but ultimately it's not about a person's greatness, nor the welfare of the greater good. It all comes down to a misguided response to a "dare” that can result in confusion over how an idea can lead in a seemingly fatalistic, mechanical way to consequences far wide of the initial ideal. As a sort of bonus, the insight from The Sinner and the Saint helps fortify a reading of Dostoevsky's earlier works (especially The House of the Dead, Notes from Underground, The Gambler, The Idiot), since they are equally bound with Dostoevsky's life experiences. The Sinner and the Saint provides a relatable guide for 19th century Russian literature in general, from philosophy and politics (Hegelianism, utilitarianism, nihilism, socialism), historical events, contemporary authors, news and literary press, and even the effects on fashion. These people and events are worth noting down; it's portable information and background that applies to other great authors of the time like Tolstoy, Turgenev and Chekhov.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    My familiarity with Dostoevsky goes back to high school (decades ago). I went through a period of interest in the "classics" and remember reading The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. I have only a slight remembrance of the latter but thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about what influenced this Russian writer that is so often referred to. Bottom line: history and politics influenced him. And those are two subjects for which I honestly have little interest. I hate adm My familiarity with Dostoevsky goes back to high school (decades ago). I went through a period of interest in the "classics" and remember reading The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. I have only a slight remembrance of the latter but thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about what influenced this Russian writer that is so often referred to. Bottom line: history and politics influenced him. And those are two subjects for which I honestly have little interest. I hate admitting that fact and I really, really wanted to like this book. Readers with a working knowledge of Russia's history and political landscape, will probably find the book a fascinating read. I slogged through about forty percent of the book and then I just decided to cut my losses. The overall impression of his life is one of desperation, misguided fervor, and hubris. When Doestoevsky's writing was first "discovered" in his early 20's, I think that set him on the road to ruin as much was made of his intellect at the time. I couldn't help thinking about all the child celebrities who have much made of them only to allow fame and fortune to utterly ruin them for a normal, productive life. The first half of the book was like watching a rising star hit its zenith and then slowly descend to its death. The hopelessness of the political scene paralleled the hopelessness of Dostoevsky's life. A man who seemed to live aimlessly, constantly running up debts, borrowing from Paul to pay Peter and never quite learning from his mistakes. The book seemed to be meticulously researched, so I do not fault the author for my lack of enjoyment. He did a marvelous job of allowing me to experience some of the madness that characterized Dostoevsky's life as I muddled through the pages. While this did not resonate with me, I do feel like it is a worthy work for anyone wanting a greater understanding of what shaped the life of Dostoevsky. I would gladly recommend to anyone who is pursuing Russian Literature or some other Russian studies. This is not a light, or casual read but rather something that will take time to absorb and process. For those who have the tenacity to complete it, I am sure their efforts will be rewarded. Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of The Sinner and the Saint free from NetGalley for the purpose of review. No other compensation was received. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Penguin Group The Penguin Press for an advanced copy of this new literary biography. Inspiration can come from many places. For the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, inspiration came to him by reading of a French murderer who had become a celebrity in Paris, for both neutrality to his act of murder, and his gentlemanly ways. Kevin Birmingham has in The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece written both a dua My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Penguin Group The Penguin Press for an advanced copy of this new literary biography. Inspiration can come from many places. For the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, inspiration came to him by reading of a French murderer who had become a celebrity in Paris, for both neutrality to his act of murder, and his gentlemanly ways. Kevin Birmingham has in The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece written both a dual biography or writer and villain, a true crime study and a history of the times and events that help create the novel Crime and Punishment. The book, as I stated, covers many things. Politics, philosophy, turmoil and confusion in Russia and Europe, plus the state of literature and the lives of our two protagonists. Alternating chapters follow the author Dostoevsky from his days in military school, and the murderer Pierre François Lacenaire starting at his entry to the criminal underworld. The similarities of both men, a love of gambling and losing fortunes, believing they were both destined for great things, exile for one, prison for another is interesting to read. The book does a very good job of following both men as they live their lives. The writing is absorbing and though it covers a number of different subjects does not get lost nor bogged down. The true crime aspect is not sensationalized, but written with enough detail to understand the barbarity of the crime, and why it must have been such a thunderbolt of inspiration for a Russian author in need of a novel. Both characters are fleshed out and interesting though how Lacenaire became the toast of Paris does escape me. I'm not sure how acting like James Dean in court with some cool poems would make me look past the axe murder of pawnbroker and his mother, but there numerous true crime podcasts out there, so it must be just me. A very different kind of literary study, as much a biography of a novel as it is these two men. Much happens, but I never found it dull or confusing. This is the second study I have read by Mr. Birmingham, and I am excited to see what author or novel he might cover next.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mairi

    Genre fiction has often been sneered at, generally by the same people who hold "classics" as being the epitome of literary achievement. Who can forget the interview where Martin Amis implied he would only stoop so low to write children's literature if he had a "brain injury." This kind of elitism and snobbishness has always existed in the arts. However what the many who tightly cling to this sense of superiority do not realise is that it is only very recently that realism has crept into literatu Genre fiction has often been sneered at, generally by the same people who hold "classics" as being the epitome of literary achievement. Who can forget the interview where Martin Amis implied he would only stoop so low to write children's literature if he had a "brain injury." This kind of elitism and snobbishness has always existed in the arts. However what the many who tightly cling to this sense of superiority do not realise is that it is only very recently that realism has crept into literature - think about Homer, Beowulf, Shakespeare with his Wyrd Sisters, Titania and Oberon. Human beings have always enjoyed a good does of the mysterious, miraculous, mythological and the unexplainable in our stories. For those that read the types of books I cover in this blog, there is one book that while being called a classic is utterly and undeniably crime fiction. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which has set a standard for not just crime writing but also novel writing in turn influencing Kafka, Joyce and Woolf among many others. Dostoyevsky was part of the Golden Age of Russian Literature and is seen as a forerunner of many new movements. But for all it's accolades and the other similar weighty tomes it will sit next to on a book shelf, at the centre of this book lies a crime, it's motivation and it's consequences, which also places it quite firmly as a piece of genre fiction. In The Sinner and The Saint, Kevin Birmingham tracks Dostoyevsky's writing of Crime and Punishment, and how his life shaped his thinking in the novel. While most Russian writers were writers because they came from nobility and could afford to be, Dostoyevsky was slightly different. He was born on the edge of nobility, and spent most of his life trying to pay off debts that could easily land him in jail because of a barbaric attitude to debt in that time. Indeed one does get the impression that if someone had taken young Dostoyevsky in hand and taught him to have more than a toddlers grasp of budgeting then it could be likely that his life would have been much easier, he may well have lived longer, and been able to be happier. It is a good a morality tale for not raising man-babies incapable of looking after themselves as any. read more here https://true-crime-fiction.com/2021/1...

  18. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I'll keep this as short and non-scary as I can for a book about Dostoevsky and (checks notes) murder. And to be honest, I don't have to try hard at all because this book has just the right balance of everything. "The Sinner and the Saint" sounds like it's going to focus on Dostoevsky's masterpiece "Crime and Punishment," but really it's all about the lead-up to that book and then where it took the author's career. The lead-up is much longer than the aftermath, probably because Kevin Birmingham's I'll keep this as short and non-scary as I can for a book about Dostoevsky and (checks notes) murder. And to be honest, I don't have to try hard at all because this book has just the right balance of everything. "The Sinner and the Saint" sounds like it's going to focus on Dostoevsky's masterpiece "Crime and Punishment," but really it's all about the lead-up to that book and then where it took the author's career. The lead-up is much longer than the aftermath, probably because Kevin Birmingham's account is split down the middle. We have half the book dedicated to our famous Russian author, and the other half centers on a man who was executed the same year that Dostoevsky turned fifteen. This man is a French murderer called Pierre François Lacenaire, and he is part of what inspired Dostoesvky's murderer protagonist, Raskolnikov. Lacenaire's story is fascinating, not so much because of his life but more because of the phenomenon he represented. Early 19th century France had a real true crime phase, not unlike the one we've observed in the U.S. for the last few years. Anyway, "The Sinner and the Saint" does a great job of summarizing the Lacenaire case, its media circus, and what made the account stand out enough for it to eventually make its way into Dostoevsky's hands years later. I wish there had been a more chronological treatment of his criminal career, the jumping back and forth got a little confusing halfway through. Still very well told. The Dostoesvky biographic parts were much more gripping for me, but I was never much of a true crime enthusiast. Even if you haven't read Dostoesvky before, this is a really interesting intro to the author and his work, and it will make you appreciate how much the author went through so that we, over a hundred years later, could feel too intimidated to pick up his novels. Dostoesvky is more approachable than you think, and Kevin Birmingham knows how to bring that out in this book. Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Press for sending me a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    See Backlisted podcast, Episode 150: Fyodor Dostoevsky - Notes from Under the Floorboards: https://www.backlisted.fm/episodes/15... To mark the occasion we are joined by authors Alex Christofi (Dostoevsky in Love) and Arifa Akbar (Consumed: A Sister's Story) for a discussion of one of Russia's greatest writers Fyodor Dostoevsky, who was born in Moscow on November 11 1821, 200 years ago this month. We concentrate on his pioneering novella Notes From Under the Floorboards AKA Notes From Underground See Backlisted podcast, Episode 150: Fyodor Dostoevsky - Notes from Under the Floorboards: https://www.backlisted.fm/episodes/15... To mark the occasion we are joined by authors Alex Christofi (Dostoevsky in Love) and Arifa Akbar (Consumed: A Sister's Story) for a discussion of one of Russia's greatest writers Fyodor Dostoevsky, who was born in Moscow on November 11 1821, 200 years ago this month. We concentrate on his pioneering novella Notes From Under the Floorboards AKA Notes From Underground (1864) and consider its impact and continuing relevance to modern life. Books mentioned: Fyodor Dostoyevsky - Notes from Underground (trs. Constance Garnett); Crime & Punishment (trs. Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky); The Gambler (tr. Jane Kentish) Arifa Akbar - Consumed: A Sister’s Story Alex Christofi - Dostoevsky in Love; Let Us Be True; What Doesn't Kill You: Fifteen Stories of Survival Gwendoline Riley - My Phantoms; My Phantoms (audiobook read by Helen McAlpine ); First Love Vanessa Onmuewezi - Dark Neighbourhood Fenanda Melchor - Hurricane Season (trs. Sophie Hughes) Nikolai Chernyshevsky - What is To Be Done? Franz Kafka - Metamorphosis & Other Stories (trs. Michael Hofmann) Hemann Melville - Bartleby the Scrivener Rowan Williams - Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction Vladimir Nabokov - Lectures on Russian Literature Other links: Film trailer for The Brothers Karamazov (1958) starring William Shatner Doctor Rowan Williams on Dostoevsky and Christianity ’Song from Under the Floorboards’ - Magazine ’Dostoevsky’ - Scott Helman Dostoevsky and the Russian Soul: new BBC Radio 4 documentary with Rowan Williams BBC documentary from 1975 presented by Malcolm Muggeridge

  20. 4 out of 5

    Anton Stjepan Cebalo

    One of the best recent books on Dostoevsky’s life and how he came to write Crime & Punishment. Yet, it suffers from some problems. If text was purely following the tragedy that so often followed the writer, I would probably give it closer to five stars. However, the sometimes forced parallels with the French criminal Lacenaire felt like afterthoughts. Additionally, the frequent synopses of C&P itself felt a bit unnecessary like fluff. The book abruptly ends with Dostoevsky’s wedding with Anna. Wh One of the best recent books on Dostoevsky’s life and how he came to write Crime & Punishment. Yet, it suffers from some problems. If text was purely following the tragedy that so often followed the writer, I would probably give it closer to five stars. However, the sometimes forced parallels with the French criminal Lacenaire felt like afterthoughts. Additionally, the frequent synopses of C&P itself felt a bit unnecessary like fluff. The book abruptly ends with Dostoevsky’s wedding with Anna. When I reached the ending, I was really expecting more—perhaps a parting thought? But it just ends with Dostoevsky coddled by his wife while having a seizure just days after his wedding day. Not exactly illuminating of what I had just finished reading. Recommend this book for anyone interested in Dostoevsky’s life, but I can’t really ignore these reservations I have. It is a shame considering the beginning and middle of the text was, at times, emotionally gripping in the best way. Regardless, I learned quite a bit about Dostoevsky as a writer, and the time in which he lived, that will stay with me. So, the book is an incredibly rewarding read. 4/5

  21. 5 out of 5

    S.L. Berry

    The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece by Kevin Birmingham delves into the writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Gambler primarily with some focus on his lesser-known writings after his exile to Siberia by Tsar Alexander I. Dostoevsky stayed true to the maxim of writing about what you know, and in his case, what he experienced. The Sinner and the Saint is both a chronological biography of Dostoevsky and a historical accoun The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece by Kevin Birmingham delves into the writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Gambler primarily with some focus on his lesser-known writings after his exile to Siberia by Tsar Alexander I. Dostoevsky stayed true to the maxim of writing about what you know, and in his case, what he experienced. The Sinner and the Saint is both a chronological biography of Dostoevsky and a historical account of Russia under Tsar Alexander I and II and includes a brief overview of times before Alexander I. I've never read any of Dostoevsky but am now planning on for 2022 to read Crime and Punishment and the shorter novel, The Gambler thanks to Birmingham's The Saint and the Sinner's excellent primer on Dostoevsky and his works.

  22. 5 out of 5

    patricia j patane

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I loved it. I took a class in college on Dostoevsky, had to read all of his books in one bleary semester. This book brought back a lot of memories and added information by intensive research of the author. He explores Dostoevsky’s life as well as his novel Crime and Punishment, the true story of the murder that inspired the novel and the murderers fate as well as several other shorter works. I found it engrossing on so many levels, the “crime” Dostoevsky committed and his “punishment” a fake exe I loved it. I took a class in college on Dostoevsky, had to read all of his books in one bleary semester. This book brought back a lot of memories and added information by intensive research of the author. He explores Dostoevsky’s life as well as his novel Crime and Punishment, the true story of the murder that inspired the novel and the murderers fate as well as several other shorter works. I found it engrossing on so many levels, the “crime” Dostoevsky committed and his “punishment” a fake execution followed by banishment to Siberia. Interestingly the path to Siberia was the same one that the Romanovs would also be sent on less than a hundred years after. The author, Kevin Birmingham, deals quite a lot with Dostoevsky’s epilepsy leaving us all to wonder just as my teacher in college did, did his genius have anything to do with his illness or not?

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    A superb work of literary biography and scholarship, a fascinating read from beginning to end. It explores Dostoevsky’s life and writing through the lens of Crime and Punishment from the first ideas to its execution. Birmingham dramatizes much of Dostoevsky’s life to good effect making this most tortured of souls come alive on the page. There’s lots of original research here too, not least into the French murderer Lacenaire (1803-1836) who was executed for his crimes and clearly made an impressi A superb work of literary biography and scholarship, a fascinating read from beginning to end. It explores Dostoevsky’s life and writing through the lens of Crime and Punishment from the first ideas to its execution. Birmingham dramatizes much of Dostoevsky’s life to good effect making this most tortured of souls come alive on the page. There’s lots of original research here too, not least into the French murderer Lacenaire (1803-1836) who was executed for his crimes and clearly made an impression on Dostoevsky: another interesting strand to an already compelling book. Birmingham has also studied all the drafts, notes, constant changes and revisions Dostoevsky made for his famous novel which again adds to our appreciation and understanding of it. A must read for anyone interested in Dostoevsky or in Russian literature in general.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Who needs historical fiction when you can read (or listen to) The Sinner and the Saint? This is an exhilarating read about Fyodor Dostoyevsky's life leading up to and during the writing of Crime and Punishment set alongside the story of Pierre-Francois Lacenaire whose crimes and behaviour were the inspiration for the novel's central character, Raskolnikov. The biographical details come alive through lively accounts of their thoughts, actions, and beliefs braided into descriptions of the intellec Who needs historical fiction when you can read (or listen to) The Sinner and the Saint? This is an exhilarating read about Fyodor Dostoyevsky's life leading up to and during the writing of Crime and Punishment set alongside the story of Pierre-Francois Lacenaire whose crimes and behaviour were the inspiration for the novel's central character, Raskolnikov. The biographical details come alive through lively accounts of their thoughts, actions, and beliefs braided into descriptions of the intellectual, political, cultural, and social conditions of the times. I alternated between reading and listening to this book - both were equally satisfying, perhaps better described as entertaining, to the last page, similar to my experience when reading (and listening to) Crime and Punishment.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Meticulously researched and stunningly written, one does not need to have read Crime & Punishment to enjoy this book. In fact, if you have not, I'd recommend reading Birmingham's book first. As in The World's Most Dangerous Book, in The Sinner, Birmingham sheds light on the driving forces of the times that influence writers, in this case Dostoevsky. We learn about how a murderer, Pierre-François Lacenaire, could bewitch society; how the tumultuous forces of revolution cross borders and shape phil Meticulously researched and stunningly written, one does not need to have read Crime & Punishment to enjoy this book. In fact, if you have not, I'd recommend reading Birmingham's book first. As in The World's Most Dangerous Book, in The Sinner, Birmingham sheds light on the driving forces of the times that influence writers, in this case Dostoevsky. We learn about how a murderer, Pierre-François Lacenaire, could bewitch society; how the tumultuous forces of revolution cross borders and shape philosophies and political movements that threaten the powerful. We learn how poverty, prison and persecution helped shape a masterpiece. But it is Birmingham's masterpiece that wowed me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    This book is amazing. It moves at a fast pace - the audiobook does, anyway - and it's incomprehensible how Dostoevsky survived long enough to write anything, let alone the masterpieces we celebrate him for today. He was SO sick, for so long. He was cheated, and his years in Siberia - seriously? But what the author does that stokes this narrative even more, is to fill the book with the era itself. He brings in Wiesbaden and Paris, he brings in a criminal - Lacenaire - for us to follow, he has a w This book is amazing. It moves at a fast pace - the audiobook does, anyway - and it's incomprehensible how Dostoevsky survived long enough to write anything, let alone the masterpieces we celebrate him for today. He was SO sick, for so long. He was cheated, and his years in Siberia - seriously? But what the author does that stokes this narrative even more, is to fill the book with the era itself. He brings in Wiesbaden and Paris, he brings in a criminal - Lacenaire - for us to follow, he has a wealth of knowledge of what it must have been like to live in that time frame, under those political and socioeconomic conditions. It makes for a robust, vastly entertaining read. I recommend it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marion

    I was just obsessed with this book! Who new a book out a book would be such a phenomenal page turner!?! I read “Crime and Punishment” years ago, and it’s a classic that has always started with me. I also am obsessed with true crime- and so this book was just made for me. It blends a biography of Dostoyevsky and 19th century Russian history with an account of a French murderer who may have inspired the novel. The writing is fantastic, and I just highly recommend it to anyone who wants to dive deep I was just obsessed with this book! Who new a book out a book would be such a phenomenal page turner!?! I read “Crime and Punishment” years ago, and it’s a classic that has always started with me. I also am obsessed with true crime- and so this book was just made for me. It blends a biography of Dostoyevsky and 19th century Russian history with an account of a French murderer who may have inspired the novel. The writing is fantastic, and I just highly recommend it to anyone who wants to dive deeper into a classic.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Birmingham has stated that,”Dostoevsky was determined to tell a murder story from the murderer’s perspective, and his character couldn’t be a monster.” He also maintains that we cannot “ fully understand the meaning and making of Crime and Punishment until we understand Dostoevsky’s life”, and that is what this incredibly interesting book is about. Being a writer in tsarist Russia meant books were frequently banned by the censors. The incredible research that went into this novel makes it an unf Birmingham has stated that,”Dostoevsky was determined to tell a murder story from the murderer’s perspective, and his character couldn’t be a monster.” He also maintains that we cannot “ fully understand the meaning and making of Crime and Punishment until we understand Dostoevsky’s life”, and that is what this incredibly interesting book is about. Being a writer in tsarist Russia meant books were frequently banned by the censors. The incredible research that went into this novel makes it an unforgettable read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jane Fudger

    This is a well researched book with the plot focusing on the life of Fyodr Dostoevsky and his novel Crime and Punishment. The novel delivers two boigraphies plus a history of Russian society. The boigraphies are of Raskolnikov [the novels main character], Doestoevsky himself and the day to day living in Russia at the time of the novels evolution. The book is both violent, disturbing and also of love.. An absorbing insight into the origins of one of the world's greatest novels One point if you ha This is a well researched book with the plot focusing on the life of Fyodr Dostoevsky and his novel Crime and Punishment. The novel delivers two boigraphies plus a history of Russian society. The boigraphies are of Raskolnikov [the novels main character], Doestoevsky himself and the day to day living in Russia at the time of the novels evolution. The book is both violent, disturbing and also of love.. An absorbing insight into the origins of one of the world's greatest novels One point if you have never read Crime and Punishment I would suggest you read it beforehand.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Brent Velthoen

    Aside from an engaging retelling of seminal periods of Dostoevsky's life, which you can learn about in other, more convincing books like Joseph Frank's biographies, the book does little to elucidate or explain the origin of Crime and Punishment. No doubt Lacenaire had some impact on the story, but the author fails to justify his claim that Lacenaire played such a pivotal role. Given the ultimate dissimilarity between Raskolnikov and Lacenaire, Lacenaire represents more of a perturbation from Dos Aside from an engaging retelling of seminal periods of Dostoevsky's life, which you can learn about in other, more convincing books like Joseph Frank's biographies, the book does little to elucidate or explain the origin of Crime and Punishment. No doubt Lacenaire had some impact on the story, but the author fails to justify his claim that Lacenaire played such a pivotal role. Given the ultimate dissimilarity between Raskolnikov and Lacenaire, Lacenaire represents more of a perturbation from Dostoevsky's eventual narrative path than a guide.

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