Matteo Pericoli at The Paris Review:
We’re used to seeing skyscrapers towering over cities. We’re used to imagining the fabric of a city as the footprint of solids over voids.
The protagonist of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s White Nights is, as he himself tells us, a dreamer. A lonely man, with no friends or acquaintances, who only knows the look and soul of the physical places around his city, Saint Petersburg. Hiding from the sunlight, he wanders the city at nighttime, animating each street corner with character—filling its voids.
The novel is an adventure that lasts four nights. On the first night, the dreamer meets a woman in tears, bravely approaches her as he’s never approached anyone before, and consoles her.
Although her heart beats for someone else, she lets him in and the two spend four nights getting to know each other. The closer he gets to her, the farther he distances himself from his lonely life. He has finally found the one chance he’ll ever have to rise above the city from which he feels estranged.
The improbable union between the two protagonists approaches in an unbearable crescendo until the final moment, when the story ends as abruptly as it had begun, and the dreamer suddenly sees even the physical city as a lifeless and meaningless place.