- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 1, 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0140238107
- ISBN-13: 978-0140238105
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 28 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #903,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Master of Petersburg: A Novel Paperback – November 1, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
South African novelist Coetzee takes Fyodor Dostoyevski as his protagonist in a novel set amidst the political ferment of 19th-century Russia.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
St. Petersburg is poised for revolution as Fyodor Dostoevsky returns from Germany to claim his deceased stepson's papers. Although the police rule Pavel's death a suicide, the famous writer is drawn into a group of shady characters, including the anarchist Nechaev, who is possibly Pavel's killer. Plagued by seizures and tormented by a torrid affair with his stepson's landlady, Dostoevsky struggles to ascertain once and for all a writer's responsibility to his family and society. The strength of South African writer Coetzee (Age of Iron, LJ 8/90) lies in his ability to draw characters and scenes evoking the dark mood of the master's novels. Unfortunately, this story of action and ideas lapses into monotonous debate in its final chapters, but there is much to enjoy despite the flagging plot. Recommended for literary collections.
Paul E. Hutchison, Bellefonte, Pa.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
For me the chief disappointment is this work's failure to fulfill its promise, and I do respect the challenge of such an attempt and applaud a writer for trying it, indeed a bold promise--that a profound and realistic portrayal of the Great Author will be made available. So it is dismaying to find the latitudes taken, as with Pavel, Fyodor's stepson, supposedly dead, and ascribing a deeply sentimental response from Dostoevsky who in reality did not have such a relationship with the boy (besides the fact that Pavel outlived him). I don't wish to carp with details. Coetzee's Dostoevsky and Dostoevsky himself differ in crucial ways. I would think Coetzee's Dostoevsky is much more like Coetzee than Dostoevsky.
Other matters are bothersome such as the assumption Dostoevsky had pedophilic tendencies. I believe this is wild assumption unless some incredible source has shown up to the contrary. This Dostoevsky not only over-reacts as with pitching himself onto Pavel's grave so that dirt clings under his eyelids from his fit of weeping, he is a manipulator, an opportunist. Although in reality he had a young wife whom he deeply loved and depended on, as well as an infant child, here he is in Petersburg delaying over the (fictional) death of his son and simultaneously putting the make on his son's landlady and her twelve year old daughter. That may sound funny, but that's not the way it's presented by Coetzee.
To assume the character of someone so profoundly well-known in indeed a daring effort, and I'm sorry to say that, for me, in this case it did not work.
Most of the blurbage for this book make it sound as though it is some sort of murder mystery set in pre-revolutionary Russia, where Fyodor Dostoevsky has come to Petersburg to attend to his step-son, Pavel's, arrangements after his suicide. This does happen, as well as a romantic entanglement with his step-son's landlady, and some shady contact with the anarchists with whom Pavel had associated. Questions do arise as to the nature of Pavel's involvement with these others, and Dostoevsky begins to wonder if it was suicide or murder, but these elements are relatively minor; they are really just the structure on which to hang Dostoevsky's frantic musings on the nature of fathers and sons, the living and the dead, desire, and, perhaps the true heart of the book, the metaphysical repercussions of artistic creation.
Almost from the beginning, I had a difficult time sustaining interest. The first quarter to a third of the book is perpetually concerned with Dostoevsky's grief and interior monologues as he fights his way through the stages of his sorrow. The author stays mired in this cycle, with Dostoevsky revisiting the same imagery again and again, refusing to let go; and while this seems like an accurate representation of the circular thinking into which a person is trapped during a period such as this, it all sounded contrived for some reason. It could have been from the author's choice to have as his protagonist Fyodor Dostoevsky, and I still wonder at the reason behind it. The conception of Dostoevsky carries with it a lot of connotations, especially to those who have read his work; Mr. Coetzee was undoubtedly aware of this, and I assume he chose the Russian writer because of it. For me, this was the fatal flaw; no matter what insights the author was actually trying to bring about, I could never suspend belief long enough to listen to them.
Why Dostoevsky? I could only guess, but none of my guesses are very charitable toward the author - and they could be all wrong. For most readers, this won't be an issue, and since Mr. Coetzee goes on to have some pretty heavy things to say about what it really means to be a writer, those who have no problem with Dostoevsky the character may find the book much more worthwhile than I.
This doesn't put me off Mr. Coetzee - this is simply one offering that didn't satisfy. There are other novels of his that I still look forward to reading, as I found the nature of the themes he explored here in MASTER of interest. It was just the method of delivery that never took off for me.