Monday, May 18, 2015

No Other Answer: My discovery of Fyodor Dostoevsky

I have this Hall Of Fame thing in my mind.
Favorite books. Favorite authors. Favorite songs. Favorite movies.
None of which I can think of when someone asks me, "What's your favorite book/author/song/movie?"

I'm stuck scrambling around in my mind, which, if you could see it, would look like like my desk, or my house, since now that I'm married my whole house is basically my desk. Rushing about, pushing aside random scraps of paper and scanning stacks of books, tripping over backpacks full of rock climbing gear that I left in the hallway, and noticing with annoyance the irrelevant but urgent fact that the fish bowl needs to be cleaned again. Muttering, "C.S. Lewis, I know it's by C.S. Lewis. Sort of." Or, "World War Two. Isn't my favorite movie about WWII?" And compromising by saying the first good idea that comes to mind, in the most non-committal way I can, with a vague sense that I am betraying a friend.

That's still better than when someone asks me what my book is about. *shudder*

Anyway, I began this train of thought when I realized earlier today that my Favorite Authors Hall of Fame has a new member. That venerable institution, long presided over by C.S. Lewis; that welcomed G.K. Chesterton and George MacDonald with joyously open arms; that slowly accepted J.R.R. Tolkien after a four year debate; whose ranks are filled with old-time friends like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and L.M. Montgomery; and swelled by the delightful additions of Elizabeth Enright and Jonathan Rogers, has quietly and without my express permission added a new member.
One that, until last year, I had never heard of.
And that is a real problem.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1821-1881
I'd heard of Leo Tolstoy, of course. Hasn't everyone? But his countryman, Fyodor Dostoevsky? I had no idea. I don't know whose fault it is that I'd never heard of him. But I blame the world at large.

Last year, I read a book by Phillip Yancey called Soul Survivor: Why I am still a Christian, (which was an excellent book, I highly recommend it) and it mentioned both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as novelists who had brought Mr. Yancey to a greater understanding of who God is, and how much he loves us.
I have since read Tolstoy's War and Peace, which I liked.
But Dostoevsky? The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment... I loved them.
Someone told me that Dostoevsky's books were dark and weird. I don't see them that way. Yes, they handle difficult subjects. The Brothers Karamazov is about a dysfunctional family torn apart by hate, lust, and murder. But it's also about a man clinging to faith in the face of heartbreaking events. About brothers showing love to each other despite vastly different world views. About hope and love triumphing over sin and pain.
And Crime and Punishment is about a young man who commits a pointless act of violence. About how he tries to justify and rationalize it. About how guilt breaks him down and destroys him.
But it's also about a love that passes all understanding, and a redemption that can find even the most broken, even the most evil. Even those who think they are above it.

"For no one can judge a criminal, until he realizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him..." ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

An artist's depiction of Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei,
from The Brothers Karamazov.
“I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”
~ Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Dostoevsky attacks the greatest questions, the haunting doubts, the dangerous philosophies. And he doesn't exactly answer them straight out. But somehow, they feel answered. Dostoevsky's books are full of what this quote by C.S. Lewis means: "I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. No other answer would suffice."