Review: Netochka Nezvanova – A Penguin Classic

A few months ago, Penguin Classics was offering a random classic novel to anyone who signed up.  You filled out a form and then were told what novel you’d be receiving.  Mine was Netochka Nezvanova and frankly, I was a little scared.

I worried that it might be too literary and dark, but was grateful that at least it was short (less than 200 pages).  It took weeks to arrive, so long in fact that I thought (pleasantly) that maybe it would never get here.  But then it did, and once I started reading I got completely caught up in it.

Written by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky in 1849, the story is unfinished because the author was arrested and exiled to Siberia for his ties to a radical political group.    It was supposed to be a novel on a grand scale and this published part was only meant to be the introduction, but Dostoevsky never returned to it after his release from prison.  It was translated into English in 1984.

The book is set up into 3 parts, which vary widely in tone- all are narrated by Netochka but at various ages, so the ‘voice’ changes considerably.  Each part is set in a different location.

The first part portrays Netochka as a young child with her mother and stepfather, living in great poverty.  Poor little Netochka Nezvanova (“Nameless Nobody”).  Her father dies when she is very young, and her mom remarries a failed musician, Efimov.  “Father” has delusions of grandeur, believing he is the world’s greatest violinist.  He had some talent early on but through conceit or fear he squandered it, locking up his violin.  They live in squalor because he refuses to work, forcing his sick wife to eek out a living by ironing and doing wash.  He criticizes other musicians, sometimes comically and to the amusement of others in the theater district, who buy him drinks and goad him into giving his “expert” opinions on the musicians of the day.  He blames all of his problems on his poor sick wife, who he claims is holding him back.  He spends each day drinking and bullying Netochka, who loves him dearly, into handing over the few coins her mother gives her to go out and buy bread with.  Finally he is given a concert ticket to see a great musician, and it dawns on him that he is not the virtuoso he thought he was.  Netochka’s mother dies on the night of the concert, and “Father” goes mad, taking Netochka away but then running off into the night without her and dying alone a few days later.  Netochka winds up on the doorstep of The Prince, an acquaintance of her stepfather.

The 2nd section is set in the Prince’s household, where young Netochka is being nursed back to health in opulent surroundings, with servants and tutors.  The Prince has a daughter, Katya, who is the same age as the little orphan.  Katya rules the roost and is full of life and fun, quite the opposite of Netochka.  Netochka becomes intensely infatuated with Katya, kissing her as she sleeps (they share a room) and literally trembling when she comes near, and feeling destroyed when she is away.  Katya is by turns attracted to the quiet Netochka and repelled by her, but soon she returns her feelings and they spend their days (and nights) holding hands, laughing, crying, and kissing (lots of kissing).  This mutual crush went on until the mother and tutor became alarmed and decided to separate them.  The Prince’s family leaves for another residence and make arrangements for Netochka to live with Katya’s adult sister and her family.

The 3rd section is set at the sister’s home.  Alexandra and her husband raise Netochka as their own child, teaching her and growing to love her and marvel at her intelligence.  They discover Netochka is a gifted singer and find a tutor for her.  The sister is chronically ill and begins to neglect Netochka’s studies, but Netochka finds a key to the library and spends a great portion of time reading.  One day she finds a letter in a book that illuminates the true relationship of her caregivers, and she is tortured by this knowledge, going to great lengths to cover up what she knows.  I found this section to be the least interesting of the 3.

And then.. the book abruptly stops.  This is a fragment of a book and an early example of the work of the author who went on to write the famous Crime and Punishment (1866) and The Brothers Karamazov (1880).  It is written with much heart and earnest expression.  It’s interesting for it’s period detail and the examination of the different social classes in Russia at that time.  I would recommend it to those who want to broaden their horizons a bit or to anyone who likes Russian literature.


Teaser Tuesdays


Okay, I ripped this off borrowed this from Minds Alive on the Shelves, who got it from Should be Reading, a great blog I’ve never visited before today.  Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme that is just too much fun to pass up.
Here’s how it works:
● Grab your current read. 
● Let the book fall open to a random page. 
Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. 
● You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! 
● Please avoid spoilers!            

So, here are my sentences for today, between lines 7 and 12, from my current book, Netochka Nezvanova, a Penguin Classic… hmmm.  1, 2, skip a few..  Ok, here we go, from page 103:

Two years later, while the family was at the Prince’s summer villa, little Sasha, Katya’s younger brother, fell into the river Neva.  The Princess screamed, and her first thought was to throw herself into the water after her son.”
Since I’m only on page 15, I have no idea what’s going on down the road on page 103.  But it sounds interesting!
Play along if you’d like.  I’m going to tag a few people for fun, but anyone is welcome to join in!
I’m tagging:  Jill from Fizzy Thoughts, Anna from Diary of an Eccentric, Natalie from CurlyWurlyGurly, Care from Care’s Online Book Club, and Karen from Planet Books.  

The Sunday Salon

Sunday has arrived!! Here’s hoping that you all have a relaxing day.

My week has been crazy and I haven’t been able to do much reading.  Oh, I have tried to wind down with a book at bedtime, but I find myself nodding off after 10 pages or so.  I did get a solid hour of reading in at my daughter’s gymnastics practice this week, but beyond that I haven’t had a good chunk of time to sit with a book and get lost in it.  Maybe today.

 I’m posting a couple pics from our vacation to Pennsylvania.  My kids have been bored and grumpy this week since we got back to our routine because they haven’t had a gaggle of kids around to traipse through the woods with, a thunderstorm to get caught in, or a lake to jump in.  My youngest daughter’s sad comment this week was, “There’s too much cement in California, Mom.”  She has a point.  

The books keep arriving at the door even if I haven’t had much time to read them.  This was my haul this week from UPS, FedEx, and the mailman:  

The Heartbreak Diet: A Story of Family, Fidelity, and Starting Over by Thorina Rose from Chronicle Books.  It’s a hardcover graphic novel (my first) that I requested from an ad in Shelf Awareness back in May.  I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with graphic novels.  I’ll let you know.

Netochka Nezvanova by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a Penguin Classic that I requested months ago. This is a slim volume and apparently I have 6 weeks to read it or the Book Police will be after me.

Inglorious by Joanna Kavenna from Picador and LibraryThing’s early reviewers program.  This one came out a year ago but was just recently released in paperback.

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer from Harper Perennial and Every Day I Write the Book Blog.  This is the July online book club selection over at EDIWTB.

Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion- two copies- one from the author and one from the publisher, Broadway Books- so I will be giving one away!  This book is everywhere right now-and since one of my favorite people loved it, I am really excited to read it!  Watch for the giveaway post later today or tomorrow.

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner from Ballantine Books and Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book Promotion.  I will be doing a virtual book tour stop for this one in August.

The Safety of Secrets by DeLaune Michel from Over the River Publications- the 2nd copy I’ve received from them, so I’ll be giving it away!  Look for the giveaway post Tuesday.  We also may have a Q & A from the author if I could just finish the book and get a few questions to her!  That is my goal for today.

And finally- an unbound galley of The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal from the author (coming out in August) that arrived in a ripped and bent thin white envelope.  Apparently they ran out of ARCs but even though the envelope was a mess, the galley is in good shape (one munched corner, but beyond that it’s ok).  I don’t recall requesting this, but I guess I did.  I’ve never received a book this way and it will be a challenge to read it like this, but hopefully it will be worth it!

I just noticed that the two covers I added to this post show only half of the woman’s face.  Huh.  Weird.  I thought I was being all random with the covers but they are oddly one-eyed and similar.  Maybe the other eye is on the spine.  I’ll have to check.

Well, I guess I better go read now!!  The kids are still sleeping so I might be able to string two sentences together before being interrupted.

If you’re like me and need to find more time for reading, check out these tips from Books on the Nightstand.  Have a great week!  ~Lisa

Guest Post: In Praise of Book Clubs, Volume 1

This week I asked several Book Bloggers to respond to a question for a post I had in mind about why people love their book clubs.  Initially I thought this would become one post with several bloggers talking about their reading groups.  But bloggers (being bloggers) love to write, and the responses I got back were so great (and lengthy) that they each deserve their own post.  This will become a regular feature at Books on the Brain.

This first essay is from Kristen at the very popular Book Club Classics.  

I have been lucky to participate in a couple of different book clubs and have enjoyed each one.  My current book club has evolved and morphed so much through the years that it almost feels like multiple book clubs at this point!  But all of my book clubs have had a few things in common that have made each a rewarding experience.

Since reading is usually a solitary experience, I love how book clubs allow us to make what could be an isolating activity, communal.  We’ve all had the experience of finishing a truly terrific or upsetting or baffling book and desperately wanting to check our reactions against others’ experience of the same book.  Beyond book clubs, this is one of the major reasons I love reading book blogs – finding out what others are reading, what they thought about it, what they are reading next, etc. always brightens my day.

Another reason I enjoy book clubs is being motivated and held accountable to read genres outside my usual milieu.  This seems to be especially true when we have male members choosing, but my current book club has a member who loves politically aware nonfiction, a scientific member who actually chose a book on physics one month, and a mystery lover.  Thanks to these three women, I have now read at least one selection from each of these genres.  It is easy for me to want to broaden my horizons, but I like how my book club actually holds me accountable for doing it! 

The one challenge I have had with all of my book clubs is the difficulty we readers have distinguishing between the objective value of a work and our subjective opinions of it.  I’m overly sensitive to this since I taught literature for fifteen years, and one of my primary goals was to move my students beyond equating taste with quality.  In other words, learning to appreciate the strengths and qualities of a work we didn’t happen to enjoy.  Reading has such a way of engaging our hearts, as well as our minds, so separating the two can be nearly impossible at times!  Attempting to do so sure results in great discussions, though!

Blogger Bio: Kristen has taken a year off from teaching to start her blog, hoping that book clubs might be encouraged to read the classics with a little help from her (she designs kits that include discussion questions, context, etc.)  She can also customize a kit to any title; in fact, her most popular kit is for A Thousand Splendid Suns!  Her blog is jammed to bursting with book reviews and all the latest info. on what’s happening in the book world.  Kristen has been married to Eric for 2 years.  They live in the Twin Cities with their pit bull/border collie mix, Juno, and half-Arab, Mariah.  Book Club Classics was started last October.  

Would you like to share about your book club here at Books on the Brain?  If so, leave a comment and I will get in touch with you about a guest post!

For more info on starting your own book club, click HERE

For fun ways to make your book club better, click HERE

For previous volumes of In Praise of Book Clubs, click HERE

To win a copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, click HERE by May 15th.  Josh would be happy to do an author chat with your book club!

To win a copy of The Next Thing on My List by Jill Smolinski, click HERE and comment by May 15th.  Jill also does author chats with book clubs!

Literature: Booking Through Thursday

Lit-Ra-Chur April 3, 2008

Filed under: WordPress — –Deb @ 1:21 am 

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  • When somebody mentions “literature,” what’s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
  • Do you read “literature” (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?
    The word LITERATURE sends shivers down my spine.  Mrs. Worsham and AP English Lit spring to mind.  I can almost see her pinched face and hear her trembly voice saying, “Class, read chapters 11-17 tonight, be ready to discuss the plot analysis flow map tomorrow and our quiz will be Friday.  Any questions?”  I think of dealing with clunky language and archaic turns of phrase, questioning every possible motivation for each character, discussing the merits and relevance of the work to modern times, and I shudder.  For me, this has nothing to do with reading for pleasure.  But it was also many years ago.  

    It occurs to me that I ought to give the dreaded LITERATURE another chance, reading it without deadlines and threat of a poor grade if I don’t quite understand the broader themes.  Our book club has talked about reading some classics, and that’s been met with some groans and a roll of the eyes from me, but maybe it’s time.  

    What about you?  Do you read LITERATURE, or fear it?


Booking Through Thursday

Read with Abandon? October 25, 2007

I hope I did this right. It’s my first time doing a meme. Here goes:

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Today’s suggestion is from Cereal Box Reader

I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

I’ve abandoned a few books this year.  Here is my list:

1. Bel Canto by Anne Patchett

I can’t for the life of me figure out what anyone sees in this book. I was bored to tears. Every other line is devoted to a flowery description of the central character’s fabulous voice. I get it! She’s amazing! No need to pound me over the head with that fact! I gave it 200 pages to do something for me, and it didn’t.

2. Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult

Now this is an author I like. My Sister’s Keeper was terrific. But there were just too many coincidental things happening here to make it even remotely believable. I didn’t care about the characters. I lost interest and never went back to it.

3. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

This is a classic, written in 1940, and chosen by Oprah for her Book Club. Lots of prose, not plot driven at all. I tried to like it. I may go back to it. Probably not.

4. When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin

Very sappy and predictable. Too manipulative. Would probably do well on the Lifetime channel.

5. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn-

I know, I know. I will give it another try.