“When Dostoyevsky was 28, he was arrested in the pre-dawn hours by the Czar's political police. … [Nine months later] the men were brought out into a square in the middle of St. Petersburg in December. Three men were tied to stakes; there were hoods pulled over their heads. A firing squad came out to aim their rifles. Dostoyevsky was next in line to be executed.”
Thus begins our Book Dreams interview this week with Kevin Birmingham, author of The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece. We discuss with Kevin the many extraordinary twists and turns of Dostoevsky’s life that helped shape the writing of Crime and Punishment and other novels. Dostoevsky endured ten years of exile in Siberia, four of them in a Siberian labor camp among murderers, and he battled a gambling addiction that repeatedly brought him to the brink of ruin. Kevin explains how these experiences and more contributed to “[t]wo decades of hardship, contemplation, and experimentation [that] brought [Dostoevsky] to a spectacular period of creativity in which he wrote four of the greatest novels in Russian literature—in all literature.” Kevin also recounts the story of Pierre-François Lacenaire, the real-life criminal who became the model for Raskolnikov, the murderer depicted in Crime and Punishment.
Kevin Birmingham is the author of The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece, which was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses, which won the PEN New England Award and The Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism. Kevin has been named a Public Scholar by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and he received his PhD in English from Harvard. His writing has appeared in Harpers, The New York Times Book Review, Slate, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The Sinner and the Saint: Dostoevsky and the Gentleman Murderer Who Inspired a Masterpiece
*A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
*One of The East Hampton Star's 10 Best Books of the Year
“Birmingham has alchemized scholarship into a magisterially immersive, novelistic account of the author’s life. The heart pounds . . . the work of a skilled storyteller . . . a magnificent and fitting tribute.” —Boris Fishman, The New York Times Book Review
“Immersive . . . Birmingham ably guides us . . . [A] rich, detailed narration of Dostoyevsky’s life, with all of its paradoxes and tortured ambivalences.” —Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times
“Tautly constructed . . . masterly . . . [Birmingham] sits as tightly on Dostoevsky’s shoulder as Dostoevsky does on Raskolnikov’s, so that we feel as if we are seeing the world—a terrifying, claustrophobic world—from their doubled perspective . . . The Sinner and the Saint is gripping, even for those who have not read Crime and Punishment for years or, indeed, have never even skimmed it.” —Kathryn Hughes, TheWashington Post