Andre van Loon at Berlin Review of Books:
The impetus to know about a writer’s life becomes all the stronger when, rather than being unlikely to ever know more, we are instead faced with systematic attempts to obscure. The University of Toronto’s Slavic scholar Peter Sekirin, in compiling and translating around one hundred, rare first-hand accounts of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky’s life and career, is driven to allow as many illuminating voices to be heard as were suppressed during the Soviet Union. Dostoevsky started well enough, from the later, official point of view. He debuted with the sentimental, socially conscious novelPoor Folk (1846), became a member of the Petrashevsky socialist circle, and suffered for his politics during his subsequent Siberian imprisonment and enforced military service. What the Soviets could not countenance, however, was the writer’s infuriating, post-Siberian right-wing turn, the erstwhile socialist dreamer becoming an ardent royalist and defender of personal responsibility. Thus, finding out about Dostoevsky became harder than ever during the Soviet era. The official school syllabus mentioned him in scant terms and academics were hampered by the so-called ‘special funds’: library archives requiring official, often denied, approval to access, and from which nothing could be published.
Sekirin has painstakingly managed to trace much of this previously restricted material. Impressively, less than ten percent of his compilation has been previously published in English, with nearly 80 per cent of it dating from the years 1881-1935. Although worldwide Dostoevsky studies can draw on a bibliography of thousands of items, including the monumental, five-volume biography written by Joseph Frank, it is undoubtedly to the field’s benefit that more people who actually knew, lived and worked with Dostoevsky can now be heard.