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Summary

Exiled to four years in Siberia, but hailed by the end of his life as a saint, prophet, and genius, Fyodor Dostoevsky holds an exalted place among the best of the great Russian authors. One of Dostoevsky’s five major novels, Devils follows the travails of a small provincial town beset by a band of modish radicals - and in so doing presents a devastating depiction of life and politics in late 19th-century Imperial Russia. Both a grotesque comedy and a shocking illustration of clashing ideologies, Dostoevsky’s famed novel stands as an undeniable masterpiece.

©1992 Michael R. Katz (P)2013 Recorded Books

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A tough one

Some things to bare in mind before buying this book

1. You will need a character list to avoid losing track
2. You will need a pretty good understanding of spoken French, as a lot of the main character's dialogue is in French. there's a couple of chapters towards the end that are almost completely in French

4 people found this helpful

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Outstanding reading

This very long book was brought to life by the excellent reading. Beautifully read and one that I would never have finished reading if it were not read to me as an audio book. I finally have an understanding of the genius of Dostoyevsky.

4 people found this helpful

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Staggering literature

I’ve been going through Dostoevsky, and I struggled with this one until about a third of the way through. I couldn’t entirely track the characters or stay engaged all the time, but then I seemed to just fall into the story and never looked back. The psychological insights and depth of the ideas is unbelievable.

I didn’t find there to be nearly as much French as some people have complained. Having finished this book, I can’t believe I nearly gave up on it.

I hope you find it as meaningful as I did.

2 people found this helpful

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A long journey

I found Devils confusing to read in book form so I resorted to listening to it. The narrator's style didn't really help to convey the sense of the narrative until way into the book when I began to enjoy him as personifying the book's narrator: a slightly fussy old man. His canadian accent took getting used to but his russian and french were perfect. So long and drawn out a narrative with characters so alien and with various names made it difficult to keep in one's head. I googled the plot to have some idea of what was going on but now my main memory is that I didn't like any of the characters. It is a dark, bleak book right up until a moment at the end when Stepan is dying and realises belief is all. There's a cruel satire of Turgenev, (who lent Dosteyevsky money)
I may listen to it again some day now I know who everyone is and what they are doing.........

1 person found this helpful

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Complex, intriguing classic

Probably the hardest to follow of his 4 post-Siberia novels - recommend a character list to refer to. Still, insightful and deep, fascinating group of characters but overall quite "gloomy" given the lack of any fully likeable heroes. Narration is OK - not as distinctive as Constantine Gregory.

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Excellent

Guidall and Katz - what a great combo! George Guidall is superb in his performance of this otherwise difficult text for the English-speaking reader translated by Michael Katz with rare brilliance.

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Marathon Melodrama

The trick is somehow getting through the turgid first five hours or so as few of the main protagonists actually appear in Part one and the plot doesn't take shape until much later. It's worth it though and it all kicks off soon after and it kept going to the end. A thick blue pencil through one third of this novel would have made a more pleasurable listening experience however I suppose you have to keep in mind it was written in 1871 not 1971. I was not sure about George Guidall as the narrator but he grew on me and did a good job in the end.

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  • L. Kerr
  • 06-09-13

Excellent translation and narration

"Devils" (formerly translated as "The Possessed," and sometimes translated as "Demons") is one of Dostoevsky's four great long novels, the others being "Crime and Punishment," "The Idiot," and "The Brothers Karamazov."

First, don't by the version narrated by Patrick Cullen and titled "The Possessed." The narration is poor and the translation is the outdated one by Constance Garnett.

"Devils" is a very political novel and was intended to be so. In order to appreciate it, you should do a little research on the 1869 murder by the Russian revolutionary Nechayev. One of the two lead characters, Peter Stephanovich Verkhovensky, a creepy Charles Manson type, is based on Nechayev. The Wikipedia article on "Demons" is short and informative. It also helps to know a little about Dostoevsky's background because several elements are autobiographical. Last, you might want to print a list of characters because, like all Russian novels, the many patronymic names can be confusing, especially if you're listening. If you do these things you'll experience the full effect.

The plot centers on some brutal, political murders. The setting is the run-up to the Bolshevik Revolution. Lenin and company didn't come out of nowhere. Trouble had been brewing in Russia for some time. "Devils" places events in context. Like all of Dostoevsky's works, the plot is deeply psychological, though there is quite a bit of dry humor and irony (items that are often missed in Dostoevsky's works because the original translator, Constance Garnett, tended to homogenize his phrases). If you're into this thing, "Devils" is a gripping novel.

The narrator is the very accomplished George Guidall. I've listened to many of his readings, such as his outstanding performances in "Crime and Punishment" and "Don Quixote." George is perfect for "Demons." His sharp characterizations, timing, and overall feel are perfect. He has a Slavic background and takes great pride in reading the Russian greats.

Last, I can't say enough good things about this 1992 translation by Russian Studies Professor Michael R. Katz of Middlebury College. Professor Katz reinserts Dostoevsky's intentionally quirky sentence structure which was sadly washed out by earlier translators. I've read that some critics think Doestoevsky wasn't a great stylist as was Tolstoy and others. In my opinion, that's only because early translators failed to pick up his nuances. Dostoevsky was a very careful writer. Many of his supposedly awkward sentences, when carefully translated, reveal great wit and style. I compared Professor Katz's translation to others, such as the acclaimed translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, and feel that Professor Katz's is the best going.

"Devils" is a great listen if you're willing to put in the time and effort.

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  • Derrick Lough
  • 15-08-19

Amazing

This author was brought to my attention by Jordan Peterson. I finished Crime and Punishment and now Devils. Both had moments that had me on the edge of my seat, brought me to tears, to joy and to laughter. Seeing the resemblance between the complexities of progressivism then to current day blew me away. I've been liberal since High School but JBP and this literature has opened my eyes, brought me back to my faith and eased me from my political fervor. Not to mention the style of writing itself, philosophy aside, was fantastic. Will listen to again and buy a physical version.

22 people found this helpful

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  • T R Barrett
  • 10-06-20

Intermittent GREATNESS and prolonged boredom..

Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of the great authors in Russian Literature, and Devils (sometimes also called The Possessed or Demons) certainly lived up to the brilliant complexity which we love in classic literature..

George Guidall is widely recognized as the world's most acclaimed and prolific audiobook narrator. His rendition of Devils is probably the best you'll find on Audible (or anywhere for that matter).

Unfortunately, I would not recommend this particular audiobook. Devils is dotted with some of the GREATEST writing in Russian literature. However, that greatness is followed by the most prolonged pointless dialog ever written in Russian literature.. Devils "brilliant complexity which we love in classic literature" becomes it's own curse. I simply could not follow along.

I probably would have loved this book if I was a reader in the mid to late 1800's when Devils was first published. I would even love this book TODAY if I took the time to physically read it. Unfortunately, it doesn't work as an audiobook. Period.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • 13-02-14

I loved the Devil(s) out of the Possessed

How the Hell do I adequately review this? Once someone hits a certain genius with writing (or other forms of art), it is impossible to really grade their art. How could one grade Beethoven's great symphonies? Is Demons/Devils/the Possessed better than Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, The Idiot? Tell me, do you prefer Matthew, Mark, Luke or John?

Dostoyevsky is writing the gospels man*. Greatness is not a bolus of achievement or a gout of acclaim. It just is. Each of Dostoyevsky's big novels is a piece that is both infinitely frustrating and beautifully perfect at the same time. There was probably more to love (for me) in Brothers Karamazov, but it didn't flow as easily as Demons, but still gah, still I think I love Demons more. No, Brothers K. No. Gah!.

Desert Island book? Forced to pick? To HELL with you I'm taking both or trade my food of foot or future for the second (sealed) book. IT IS that good.

Demons is what you get when you mix a writer who is a philosopher on par with the thinking greats, a writer who is a psychologist on par with the behavioral greats, a writer who is a preacher on par with the moral greats. Oh, and you better damn sure make this writer is hypergraphic.

OK. I'm going to have to calm down, let this stew and seep, think some, sip some, and return and revise. This captures some of the energy I felt closing this book, but doesn't even come close to demanding from me what this book deserves.

* Yes, I kept thinking vaguely of the Big Lebowski as I read this.

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  • Rex Riethmeier
  • 22-08-19

narrator

naerator. has awful syntax and grammatical comprehension. embellishes voice to much which for me made me unable to even enjoy story. is a to pretty narrative and loses flow.

4 people found this helpful

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  • pibinca
  • 21-02-15

amazing reader!

What did you like about this audiobook?

Beautiful, expressive, yet understated reading that does full justice to the irony in the writing. A troubling book that's political satire, dark comedy and a full parade of drama queens! Prescient of the horrors to come in Russia. Totally absorbing.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Jefferson
  • 29-04-19

Revolutionaries, Scholars, Scoundrels, & Nihilists

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Devils (1871-72; translation by Michael R. Katz 1992) depicts the end of the absurd and moving 20+ year platonic romance between Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky and Varvara Petrovna Stavrogina in the context of the possession of their provincial town by foreign radical ideas and homegrown atheist nihilists. The novel explores how dangerous ideas and words and writing can be (they can possess people); how revolutionary groups form and recruit and bind (possess) members and manipulate (possess) the masses into violent action; how fickle, foolish, mean, and malleable is public opinion; how defensive and inferiority complex ridden Russia was (especially vis-à-vis European culture); and how multiply motived, contradictory, and complex the human heart and mind are. It asserts the need for common human decency as a balm for if not a protection from abuse and exploitation. And for some kind of spiritual faith and moral purpose: “the last word is universal forgiveness.”

The novel powerfully reminds one that all too often charismatic and intelligent people who begin utopian revolutions are ultimately in it for power, and that, as one character muses at one point, “Convictions and human feeling—it seems they’re two different things,” with the latter superior to the former, despite the fact that politically driven people often lose sight of that. Dostoevsky anticipates and describes Stalin and Hitler.

The novel has many great points. Like the following:

--Fascinating characters (often morbidly so), like Stepan Trofimovich, the delusional, self-centered, spoiled, ineffectual scholar, and his amoral, manipulative, and destructive son Pyotr; Nikolai Vsevolodovich Stavrogin, the sane nihilistic rake, and his wealthy domineering mother Varvara Petrovna; and the earnest, ex-revolutionary student Ivan Pavlovich Shatov and his desperately self-willed friend Kirillov.

--Great scenes, like Stepan learning that he’s supposed to marry a young former student of his; Pyotr behaving so innocently impudent and crafty in his first appearance; some feckless young people visiting a revered arbitrary hermit-priest; Pyotr revealing why he’s so invested in Nikolai; Nikolai confessing to a retired bishop; the Group of Five meeting for the first time; a literary fete going off the rails; the convict Fedka asserting his independence; and Stepan walking on the road in cavalry boots. . .

--Keen and cynical wisdom about human nature vis-à-vis political schemers and dupes; revolutionaries and scoundrels; pseudo intellectuals and revered writers; aristocrats and peasants; atheists and Christians; Russia and Russians; public opinion and gossip. Just when it’s starting to feel sour and bleak, some fundamental love and belief almost redeems it (“Love is the crown of being”).

--An interesting narrator: he’s trying to make sense of the events of the novel for which he was often a passive eye-witness, recounting them about three months after they occurred and a “Commission of Inquiry” began investigating what happened. He’s given to irony (e.g., “An enormous subversive organization of thirteen members”), though he tries to honestly reveal both his “reliable sources” and the limits of his “own best surmises” about events.

Dostoevsky also, of course, writes great descriptions of people, like “In appearance Shatov closely resembled his convictions. He was clumsy, fair-haired, disheveled, short, broad-shouldered, thick-lipped, with very heavy, overhanging pale blond eyebrows, a furrowed brow, and an unfriendly, stubbornly downcast gaze that seemed ashamed of something.”

He also writes many great lines on:

--Love: “Even a louse can fall in love.”

--Human nature: “The horror and vague feeling of personal danger, added to the thrilling effect of a night fire, produce in the spectator (not, of course, in those whose houses have gone up in flames) a certain shock to the system and as it were a challenge to the destructive instincts which, alas, lie buried within each and every soul, even that of the meekest and most domestic civil servant…”

--America: “One has to be born in America, or at least live among them for many years, to become their equal.”

--Revolutionaries: “Why is it that all these desperate socialists and communists are all so incredibly miserly and acquisitive and proprietarial?”

--Religion: “The more impoverished an entire people is, the more stubbornly it dreams of reward in paradise.”

Audiobook reader George Guidall excels at voicing the characters (especially Pyotr, Stepan, the convict Fedka, and Captain Lebyadkin), but it’s difficult to understand his French when Stepan speaks it (which he often does). Many of the characters’ three names are exotic enough and similar-sounding enough to cause confusion, as with Mavriky Nikolaevich and Nikolai Vsevolodovich. The narrator refers to Nikolai as Nikolai Vsevolodovich, Nikolai, Nikolai Stavrogin, or Stavrogin. All this is to say that it might be easier to read the physical novel than to listen to the audiobook.

The book took me a LONG time to finish, and although the fault was mine because a trip interrupted my reading for three weeks, there are too many scenes with too much talking, and dealing with the book had already begun to feel like a not altogether pleasant chore even before that hiatus, and upon finishing it I felt freed from a kind of psychological bondage.

If you are a fan of Dostoesvsky, this book would surely be worth your while, but if you are new to him, I’d recommend starting with Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Jen Bardsley
  • 30-09-18

Dostoyevsky's study of nihilism

Dostoyevsky's literary study of the consequences of the extremes of nihilism, and a masterwork of literature - inspiring!

3 people found this helpful

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  • E. Scott
  • 13-07-16

What is happening?

I'm seven hours in, and so far I get the sense that FD is playing a joke on the reader. Listening to this is like watching an interminable Seinfeld episode being broadcast in a language you don't know with no subtitles. Normally I'd be all about satire, but never has a story been more expertly crafted to lead the reader into hopeless confusion. Since it's FD, I have to believe it was intentional, but that doesn't make it palatable.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Vicki In Crete
  • 13-05-14

delicious

I am enjoying the performance of this book so much. I'm smirking and giggling and laughing out loud. Bravo to George Guidall!
Will I ever read Dostoevsky again or simply enjoy listening!!

5 people found this helpful