Talking God and Dostoevsky in Vietnam
My friend, a recent graduate from a Hanoi university, has digested many of the French and Russian classics. Most of the former set found their way into Vietnamese during the early part of the last century, while the bulk of the latter accompanied an increasing Soviet influence, which marked the end of French occupation in 1954.
As we sat across from each other in the cafe booth, sipping an iced blend of espresso and sweetened condensed milk, he reflected on three of his favorite Western authors, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Hugo. He isn’t a believer, but I asked about the composite picture of Christianity these writers had supplied him.
Thinking, he rubbed his chin with one finger and then began, “I like Crime and Punishment because it’s a story of a madman, Raskolnikov, who becomes one of the best guys in the book at the end. And a young prostitute saw his soul and wanted to help him.”
He paused and squinted, continuing on a little quicker than before, “But God only fights inside the mind. With Tolstoy, it’s also like this, but God doesn’t have much power to influence the character of a person. For example . . . ”
He tapped the bit of glass tabletop beside his cup, scouring his mind for a name. I waited attentively and urged on his search with my fixed eyes and nodding head, excited at any mention of Dostoevsky, my favorite novelist. Once retrieved, the name filled in the empty space. “. . . Pierre, from War and Peace, dreams of many big things, like Raskolnikov, but he didn’t do anything big for anyone else. He only married Natasha. I think their faith is not as strong as Victor Hugo. In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean believes God did everything for him, and he becomes a tool of God.”
Link: Complete Blog Post