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Better than Dickens?,
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This review is from: Resurrection (Kindle Edition)
When Prince Nekhludoff re-encounters his first love Maslova during her trial for poisoning, he is reminded of the part he played in starting her downward spiral into prostitution and now imprisonment. His conscience wakened, he begins to look with fresh eyes at the society he lives in and to question a system that allows a privileged few to enjoy vast wealth while the peasant class suffers grinding poverty. Through his efforts to clear Maslova, he is drawn into the justice system and is horrified at the cruelty and unfairness he finds there.
This is a highly political book, interesting in the light it sheds on the strains in pre-revolutionary Russian society. Tolstoy uses Nekhludoff to muse on such questions as land ownership, political protest, the place of formal religion in society, the causes of criminality and what he sees as the injustice of a system that imprisons large numbers of people who are either innocent or driven to crime by circumstances of poverty or disaffection - all questions which still resonate today. While his answers to these questions might seem somewhat simplistic with the benefit of hindsight, they provide considerable food for thought and help illuminate the course that Russia followed over the next half-century.
The plot as such is slight, a vehicle to allow Nekhludoff to meet various characters in the justice system - both those in power and those in jail. Tolstoy provides a series of vignettes as he tells the stories of this huge cast of characters, each giving an insight into an aspect of the system and into the trials and hypocrisies of human nature.
I read the Louise Maude translation and found it excellent - the language flowed well and naturally with none of the clunky sentence construction that can sometimes be so off-putting in classic translations. However in the Kindle version there are several misprints that led me to believe that at some stage this text has been scanned. For example, 'e's are often printed as 'c's, so that 'ear' may read as 'car'. This was not enough of a problem to spoil the readability of the book, though.
I was persuaded to read this book by a fellow reviewer following a discussion over whether the Russian greats were 'better' than my own literary hero, Dickens. Having read it, I now believe that question to be moot at least so far as this book is concerned - the styles and purposes of Tolstoy and Dickens are so different any comparison would be redundant. I will say though that, while for sheer enjoyment Dickens still wins out for me, I found this book satisfying and deeply thought-provoking and it will certainly encourage me to expand my almost non-existent knowledge of Russian literature.