In this almost documentary account of his own experiences of penal servitude in Siberia, Dostoevsky describes the physical and mental suffering of the convicts, the squalor and the degradation, in relentless detail. The inticate procedure whereby the men strip for the bath without removing their ten-pound leg-fetters is an extraordinary tour de force, compared by Turgenev to passages from Dante's Inferno. Terror and resignation - the rampages of a pyschopath, the brief serence interlude of Christmas Day - are evoked by Dostoevsky, writing several years after his release, with a strikingly uncharacteristic detachment. For this reason, House of the Dead is certainly the least Dostoevskian of his works, yet, paradoxically, it ranks among his great masterpieces.
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