Memoirs from the House of the Dead
In this almost documentary account of his own experience of penal servitude in Serbia, Dostoevsky describes the physical and mental suffering of the convicts, the squalor and the degradation, in relentless detail. The intricate 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 psychopath, the brief serene 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 greatest masterpieces.