Prodigious research enlivens a vigorous reappraisal of the writer’s life.

THE SINNER AND THE SAINT

DOSTOEVSKY AND THE GENTLEMAN MURDERER WHO INSPIRED A MASTERPIECE

A 19th-century true-crime/literary tale in which two lives become enmeshed in evil.

Award-winning literary historian Birmingham elaborates on the trials and travails of Dostoevsky (1821-1881) by interweaving his life with that of notorious French outlaw Pierre Francois Lacenaire (1803-1836), a figure whose “base instincts” fascinated Dostoevsky. Lacenaire, who studied law and wrote poetry, detailed his many grisly crimes—including the murders of a gay man and his mother—in a scandalous memoir. Widely celebrated as a romantic iconoclast, Lacenaire came to represent “the radical artist undermining bourgeois society” and fueled Dostoevsky’s imagination as he wrote Crime and Punishment, with a protagonist whose motivation to kill was a mystery “even to himself.” Dostoevsky set himself the challenge of grappling with the nature of evil by telling “a murderer’s story from the murderer’s perspective.” The trajectory of Dostoevsky’s life is by now familiar: He burst onto the literary scene in 1845 with the publication of Poor Folk, but within a few years, his critical reputation waned and he was drawn into the left-leaning Petrashevsky Circle. Arrested when the czar clamped down on political protest, he was imprisoned for eight months, faced a firing squad, and was pardoned at the last minute and sent into exile in Siberia. There, he sought out stories of his fellow convicts, including murderers; he was transfixed by their renderings of their crimes. Bedeviled by epileptic seizures, a gambling addiction, and overwhelming debt, he made an “ill-fated marriage,” suffered a doomed love affair, and found himself, at the age of 43, owing 15,000 rubles—some incurred when he took on his late brother’s debts, most because of his gambling losses. Drawing on his addiction for The Gambler, he exposed the irrationality and “fantasy of the power of daring” involved in roulette. Birmingham conveys in vibrant detail Dostoevsky’s literary aspirations, struggles to publish, and tumultuous world of “angels and demons.”

Prodigious research enlivens a vigorous reappraisal of the writer’s life.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59420-630-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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An engaging childhood memoir and a deeply affectionate tribute to the author’s parents.

THIS TIME NEXT YEAR WE'LL BE LAUGHING

The bestselling author recalls her childhood and her family’s wartime experiences.

Readers of Winspear’s popular Maisie Dobbs mystery series appreciate the London investigator’s canny resourcefulness and underlying humanity as she solves her many cases. Yet Dobbs had to overcome plenty of hardships in her ascent from her working-class roots. Part of the appeal of Winspear’s Dobbs series are the descriptions of London and the English countryside, featuring vividly drawn particulars that feel like they were written with firsthand knowledge of that era. In her first book of nonfiction, the author sheds light on the inspiration for Dobbs and her stories as she reflects on her upbringing during the 1950s and ’60s. She focuses much attention on her parents’ lives and their struggles supporting a family, as they chose to live far removed from their London pasts. “My parents left the bombsites and memories of wartime London for an openness they found in the country and on the land,” writes Winspear. As she recounts, each of her parents often had to work multiple jobs, which inspired the author’s own initiative, a trait she would apply to the Dobbs character. Her parents recalled grueling wartime experiences as well as stories of the severe battlefield injuries that left her grandfather shell-shocked. “My mother’s history,” she writes, “became my history—probably because I was young when she began telling me….Looking back, her stories—of war, of abuse at the hands of the people to whom she and her sisters had been billeted when evacuated from London, of seeing the dead following a bombing—were probably too graphic for a child. But I liked listening to them.” Winspear also draws distinctive portraits of postwar England, altogether different from the U.S., where she has since settled, and her unsettling struggles within the rigid British class system.

An engaging childhood memoir and a deeply affectionate tribute to the author’s parents.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64129-269-6

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A welcome new version of a publication that is no less important now than it was in 1967.

THE ESSENTIAL KERNER COMMISSION REPORT

A timely distilled version of the powerful report on racism in the U.S.

Created by Lyndon Johnson’s executive order in 1967, the Kerner Commission was convened in response to inner-city riots in cities like Newark and Detroit, and its findings have renewed relevance in the wake of the George Floyd verdict and other recent police brutality cases. The report, named for Otto Kerner, the chairman of the commission and then governor of Illinois, explored the systemic reasons why an “apocalyptic fury” broke out that summer even in the wake of the passage of significant civil rights and voting acts—a response with striking echoes in recent events across the country. In this edited and contextualized version, New Yorker staff writer Cobb, with the assistance of Guariglia, capably demonstrates the continued relevance and prescience of the commission’s findings on institutionalized discriminatory policies in housing, education, employment, and the media. The commission was not the first to address racial violence in the century, and it would not be the last, but the bipartisan group of 11 members—including two Blacks and one woman—was impressively thorough in its investigation of the complex overarching social and economic issues at play. “The members were not seeking to understand a singular incident of disorder,” writes Cobb, “but the phenomenon of rioting itself.” Johnson wanted to know what happened, why it happened, and what could be done so it doesn’t happen “again and again.” Of course, it has happened again and again, and many of the report’s recommendations remain unimplemented. This version of the landmark report features a superb introduction by Cobb and a closing section of frequently asked questions—e.g., “How come nothing has been done about these problems?” The book contains plenty of fodder for crucial national conversations and many excellent ideas for much-needed reforms that could be put into place now.

A welcome new version of a publication that is no less important now than it was in 1967.

Pub Date: July 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-892-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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