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The Master of Petersburg: A Novel

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Overview

In the fall of 1869 Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, lately a resident of Germany, is summoned back to St. Petersburg by the sudden death of his stepson, Pavel. Half crazed with grief, stricken by epileptic seizures, and erotically obsessed with his stepson's landlady, Dostoevsky is nevertheless intent on unraveling the enigma of Pavel's life. Was the boy a suicide or a murder victim? Did he love his stepfather or despise him? Was he a disciple of the revolutionary Nechaev, who even now is somewhere in St. ...

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Overview

In the fall of 1869 Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, lately a resident of Germany, is summoned back to St. Petersburg by the sudden death of his stepson, Pavel. Half crazed with grief, stricken by epileptic seizures, and erotically obsessed with his stepson's landlady, Dostoevsky is nevertheless intent on unraveling the enigma of Pavel's life. Was the boy a suicide or a murder victim? Did he love his stepfather or despise him? Was he a disciple of the revolutionary Nechaev, who even now is somewhere in St. Petersburg pursuing a dream of apocalyptic violence? As he follows his stepson's ghost—and becomes enmeshed in the same demonic conspiracies that claimed the boy—Dostoevsky emerges as a figure of unfathomable contradictions: naive and calculating, compassionate and cruel, pious and unspeakably perverse.

The acclaimed author of Waiting for the Barbarians and Life & Times of Michael K enters the world and mind of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Set in 1869, when Dostoevsky was summoned from Germany back to St. Petersburg by the sudden death of his stepson, this book is at once a compelling mystery and a brilliant and courageous meditation on authority and rebellion, art and imagination.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Thanks to Mr. Coetzee's ability to ground his more abstract ideas in palpable details and a solid storyline, Master tends to read more like a thriller than a dry cerebral exercise....Though Mr. Coetzee's manipulation of these facts and fictions is perfectly nimble, it also feels completely arbitrary. For the reader, at least, there seems to be no larger purpose to his clever sleight of hand: he has simply confused the record of Dostoyevsky's life and blurred the outlines of his famous novel without shedding new light on the art of fiction-making or the craft of writing. Indeed, one finishes The Master of Petersburg marveling at the waste of Mr. Coetzee's copious talents on such an odd and unsatisfying enterprise. — Michiku Kakutani
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Writing from inside the head of another writer is always a hazardous undertaking; when the subject is Fyodor Dostoyevski, the audacity is breathtaking. But that is what Coetzee (Waiting for the Barbarians; The Life & Times of Michael K) dares here, succeeding beyond all expectation. His Dostoyevski, after serving his sentence in Siberia, is living in self-imposed exile in Germany when his much-cherished stepson Pavel is found dead on a quay in St. Petersburg. The novelist rushes back there, full of anguish and guilt, and finds himself drawn instantly into an intense, edgy affair with the boy's landlady and into a wary intimacy with her young daughter, who had befriended Pavel. As a former revolutionary, he also becomes the object of police attention, particularly as one of Pavel's close associates was Nechaev, the very model of a ruthless Bolshevik. The epileptic Dostoyevski is in deepest turmoil as he mourns his stepson, tries to learn how he died (Was he killed by the police? Slain by the revolutionaries as a provocation? A suicide?) and alternately yields to and resists his darkest erotic self. The world Coetzee conjures with burning intensity is the one we remember from Karamazov and The Possessed, and there are long, searching conversations, with a police inspector and with the remorseless Nechaev himself, that could have been penned by the Russian master. It's a harrowing, exhilarating performance sure to further lift Coetzee's lofty reputation. (Nov.)
Library Journal
St. Petersburg is poised for revolution as Fyodor Dostoevsky returns from Germany to claim his deceased stepson's papers. Although the police rule Pavel's death a suicide, the famous writer is drawn into a group of shady characters, including the anarchist Nechaev, who is possibly Pavel's killer. Plagued by seizures and tormented by a torrid affair with his stepson's landlady, Dostoevsky struggles to ascertain once and for all a writer's responsibility to his family and society. The strength of South African writer Coetzee (Age of Iron, LJ 8/90) lies in his ability to draw characters and scenes evoking the dark mood of the master's novels. Unfortunately, this story of action and ideas lapses into monotonous debate in its final chapters, but there is much to enjoy despite the flagging plot. Recommended for literary collections.-Paul E. Hutchison, Bellefonte, Pa.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140238105
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/28/1995
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 811,117
  • Product dimensions: 5.07 (w) x 7.74 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

J.M. Coetzee

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, on February 9, 1940, John Michael Coetzee studied first at Cape Town and later at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Ph.D. degree in literature. In 1972 he returned to South Africa and joined the faculty of the University of Cape Town. His works of fiction include Dusklands, Waiting for the Barbarians, which won South Africa’s highest literary honor, the Central News Agency Literary Award, and the Life and Times of Michael K., for which Coetzee was awarded his first Booker Prize in 1983. He has also published a memoir, Boyhood: Scenes From a Provincial Life, and several essays collections. He has won many other literary prizes including the Lannan Award for Fiction, the Jerusalem Prize and The Irish Times International Fiction Prize. In 1999 he again won Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for Disgrace, becoming the first author to win the award twice in its 31-year history. In 2003, Coetzee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Biography

John Maxwell Coetzee was born in 1940 in Cape Town, South Africa. He is of both Boer and English descent. His parents sent him to an English school, and he grew up using English as his first language.

At the beginning of the 1960s he moved to England, where he worked initially as a computer programmer. He studied literature in the United States and has gone on to teach at several American universities, the University of Cape Town, and the University of Adelaide.

Coetzee made his debut as a writer of fiction in 1974. His first book, Dusklands was published in South Africa. His international breakthrough came in 1980 with the novel Waiting for the Barbarian. In 1983 he won the Booker Prize in the United Kingdom for Life and Times of Michael K. In 1999, he became the first author to be twice awarded the Booker Prize, this time for his novel, Disgrace. In 2003, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. The Academy cited the astonishing wealth of variety in Coetzee's stories, many of which are set against the backdrop of apartheid.

In addition to his novels, Coetzee has written numerous essays and interviews. His literary criticism has been published in journals and collected into anthologies.

Good To Know

Described by friends as a reclusive and private man, Coetzee did not make the trip to London in 1984 to receive the Booker Prize for Life and Times of Michael K, nor when he again won the prize for Disgrace in 1999.

His 1977 novel, In the Heart of the Country, was filmed as the motion picture Dust in 1985.

Coetzee has also been active as a translator of Dutch and Afrikaans literature.

In 2002, Coetzee emigrated to Australia.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Maxwell Coetzee
    2. Hometown:
      Adelaide, Australia
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 9, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Cape Town, South Africa
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of Cape Town, 1960; M.A., 1963; Ph.D. in Literature, University of Texas, Austin, 1969

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