BOOKS: Parallel World

A first-rate novelist adapts Dostoyevsky's life too freely

HERE'S A BRILLIANT, BROODING novel, a literary work of the first class, built around a confounding falsification by the author that reduces the entire book to the level of a clever and nearly meaningless stunt. Find an explanation if you can.

The situation in The Master of Petersburg (Viking; 250 pages; $21.95) is this: J.M. Coetzee, the South African novelist, has placed himself in the turbulent, ironic mind of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It is 1869; the writer is 49, self-exiled in Dresden at mid-career, with Poor Folk and Crime and Punishment behind him and The Brothers Karamazov far in the future. He...

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