Sunday, October 21, 2018

The last books of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy

Besides spiritual literature I really like reading Russian classics especially Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. The last book of Fyodor Dostoyevsky was The Brothers Karamazov and there he put all his understanding about life, love, family, religion and other important things. On other hand, Tolstoy's last book was Resurrection.

The Brothers Karamazov as a whole is a confusing book, just like life itself is. It is impossible to say what Dostoevsky wanted us to understand but he has left a great warning for humanity about dangers of totalitarianism and suppression of speech and free thinking.

The most memorable passage in the book, for me, is the The Grand Inquisitor chapter. It is actually a story told by Ivan Karamazov to his brother Alyosha, in which Ivan speaks about the return of Jesus to earth in Seville at the height of the Spanish Inquisition.

He imagines that Jesus is taken prisoner by the 90-year-old Grand Inquisitor who then just like police today is looking at the suspect's crimes. He concludes that the return of Jesus after 15 centuries of absence from the world interferes with the work of the church. Jesus preached a message of freedom, but the church has discovered that it is not freedom that humankind desires - it is authority.

"Oh, we shall convince them that they will only become free when they resign their freedom to us, and submit to us," says the Inquisitor. "The most tormenting secrets of their conscience - all, all they will bring to us, and we will decide all things, and they will joyfully believe our decision, because it will deliver them from their great care and their present terrible torments of personal and free decision."

As for Jesus, he has no place in a well-regulated society. He is a troublemaker, a scandal: "For if anyone has ever deserved our stake, it is you. Tomorrow I shall burn you."

Dostoevsky's last book was written in 1880 and it is hauntingly predictive of the social inquisition of the 21st century. The corporations, governments, social medias etc. always goes towards disposition of human freedom in the name of authority. They claim that only them know what humanity really wants and needs. We must surrender to them for the sake of our salvation.

 "Life is sweetness and light among shame and confusion" is the message of Leo Tolstoy's last book, Resurrection. It is the story of a man tormented by the injustices of society and his own mistakes in life. As a reader you will probably like him but at the same time you will fear him, since it is possible that you may find your own weaknesses described in these pages.

Count Nekhlyudov is the central character of this short book. He stays in his youth with his aunts who have engaged a charming young woman, Maslova, as companion. Nekhlyudov falls in love with Maslova, and she with him. He joins the Army and becomes a general-roustabout. Returning to his aunts' house after a couple of years, he seduces Maslova for a night, making her pregnant. He gave her a large sum of money in order to look better in her eyes.

Life goes on... and later comes the scene where he is appointed to jury service. To his horror, he finds that the prisoner on trial for prostitution and murder is Maslova, now much deteriorated. Everyone but Nekhlyudov is indifferent to the girl's fate, so that we find that Maslova is to be exiled to Siberia.

He tries to marry her but she refuses him. "You had your pleasure from me in this world, and now you want to get your salvation through me in the world to come!"

Nekhlyudov does everything within his power to save her. He enters stinking prisons while trying to help Maslova. Tolstoy had himself visited such prisons; innocent and guilty alike are treated the same. Iniquity and inequality fall under Nekhlyudov's inspection. He attempts to give his land to the peasants farming it. They will not have it. Starving men labor among the great fields. Their animals starve with them.

"All this happened," Nekhlyudov says to himself, "because all these people... consider that there are circumstances in this world when man owes no humanity to man."

This brilliant, troubling novel about life was criticized for its outspoken contents. It remains a grand panorama of understanding of what life is.

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