Published On: Tue, Mar 29th, 2016

House Of The Dead

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FROM THE LIVE STAGE with Patrick-Jude Oteh

0803 700 0496, 0805 953 5215 (SMS only)

“Here was the house of the living dead, a life like none other upon earth” – Dostoyevsky
I do not mean to insult or annoy anyone this season. There is already a lot of annoyance and anger in the land. The above title is from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The House Of The Dead (1860) which was written after his four years’ incarceration in the convict prison at Omsk, Siberia. If you are familiar with Siberia, it is the end of the world!
In 1849, Dostoyevsky was arrested and sentenced to death for participating in the Petrashevsky Circle, a group of writers considered dissident by the state. He was reprieved at the last minute before the execution and sentenced to penal servitude in the prison at Omsk, Siberia which experience he later captured as the novel, The House Of The Dead.
The experience at the firing squad left many of his co-convicts and fellow writers with mental illnesses and madness from which they never recovered and later led to his writing another great novel of his The Idiot (1869). In January 1850, his start of his new life in the prison, he later described these four years as the most agonizing in his life. It was a daily battle for survival, the beds were mere wooden planks, the cabbage soup was swimming with cockroaches, and his new family consisted of boastful, ugly and cruel convicts. It was life in hell like the point when they had to work in weather so cold that the mercury had frozen in the thermometer.
Life was cruel and brutish. Imagine this – I got frost bite in one of my legs. We lived all in a heap, crowded together in one barrack. Imagine if you will – this dilapidated old wooden building which had long ago been scheduled for demolition and which was now quite unfit for use. In summer, the airlessness inside was intolerable, likewise the cold in winter. All the floors had rotted through. The floor was covered in two floors of muck, it was easy to slip and fall. The ice on the window panes was almost two inches thick. There were leaks in the roof and a constant draught prevailed. We were packed in like herrings in a barrel. Only six logs were used to heat the stove hence there was no warmth…there was no space to turn around in and from dawn to dusk no one could go outside to relieve himself as the barracks were locked up, instead a tub was placed in the passage and the stink was intolerable….we slept on a bare plank bed and were permitted one pillow.
For food we were given bread and a cabbage soup which contained a quarter of a pound of beef but the beef was ready diced and I never saw any of it. On holidays there was kasha with practically no vegetable oil. On fast days, there were cabbage leaves and water and hardly anything else. I suffered terrible stomach troubles and was ill most of the time. I lived on tea and the occasional piece of beef which I bought for myself and this saved me. It was also forbidden to smoke for men might have suffocated in such airless conditions. Smoking was done on the sly and I was often a patient in the hospital because my nerves were upset and I suffered fits of epilepsy but these were rare. I also have rheumatism in my legs. Apart from these, I feel quite well.
Since the beginning of this year, I have told myself that I must read one hundred books before the end of this year. There are no specific topics – random as possible. I just finished reading E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and I wonder at the depths of the human mind. I am currently reading The House of The Dead and I am entranced in the depravity of the human mind.
Now how does this all add to what we are going through? If Dostoyevsky could have survived these four years, then we can survive anything. After all is said and done, we have just being given vinegar for Easter and the stars are still shining.
Rinconete And Cortadillo
We are about to perform the stage adaptation of Cervantes’ novel, Rinconete and Cortadillo. If is a story set in a house where two young boys decide to join a band of thieves to earn a living. What happens to them? On the long run where do they turn to? These are certainly amazing times and we are all caught in the filling stations of this nation with nowhere to.

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