15 March 2012

The Master of Petersburg

There is something overwhelmingly important he wants to say that the boy will now never be able to hear. If you are blessed with the power to write, he wants to say, bear in mind the source of that power. You write because your childhood was lonely, because you were not loved. (Yet that is not the full story, he also wants to say—you were loved, you would have been loved, it was your choice to be unloved. What confusion! An ape on a harmonium would do better!) We do not write out of plenty, he wants to say—we write out of anguish, out of lack. Surely in your heart you must know that!

Talk about déjà vu. I didn't know I'd already read the first several chapters of J.M. Coetzee's The Master of Petersburg—until a recent quick look through the notes I'd saved in my E-mail indicated that I, in fact, had had my hands on a copy four years before I bought another one. It must have been lost in the fire that destroyed our house a couple of years ago, or else it must have been a borrowed copy, since returned to its owner. In any event, it was a book that I started but had not, for some reason or another, finished reading. 

However, if it was the case before that a growing collection of Dostoevsky created the need to read The Master of Petersburg, which I am sure it was, this time it's the other way around. Reading Coetzee, reading this particular Coetzee novel, this beautiful and very powerful imagination of Dostoevsky's return to pre-revolutionary Russia after having been summoned from Germany by the mysterious death of his stepson, makes me want to go out and grab a copy of the Dostoevsky novel that I hadn't read: Demons. Where the former ends is where the latter begins.

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