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The Gambler Wife by Andrew D. Kaufman

A revelatory new portrait of the courageous woman who saved Dostoyevsky’s life—and became a pioneer in Russian literary history

In the fall of 1866, a twenty-year-old stenographer named Anna Snitkina applied for a position with a writer she idolized: Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A self-described “emancipated girl of the sixties,” Snitkina had come of age during Russia’s first feminist movement, and Dostoyevsky—a notorious radical turned acclaimed novelist—had impressed the young woman with his enlightened and visionary fiction.

Yet in person she found the writer “terribly unhappy, broken, tormented,” weakened by epilepsy, and yoked to a ruinous gambling addiction. Alarmed by his condition, Anna became his trusted first reader and confidante, then his wife, and finally his business manager—launching one of literature’s most turbulent and fascinating marriages.

The Gambler Wife offers a fresh and captivating portrait of Anna Dostoyevskaya, who reversed the novelist’s freefall and cleared the way for two of the most notable careers in Russian letters—her husband’s and her own. Drawing on diaries, letters, and other little-known archival sources, Andrew Kaufman reveals how Anna warded off creditors, family members, and her greatest romantic rival, keeping the young family afloat through years of penury and exile.

In a series of dramatic set pieces, we watch as she navigates the writer’s self-destructive binges in the casinos of Europe—even hazarding an audacious turn at roulette herself—until his addiction is conquered. And, finally, we watch as Anna frees her husband from predatory contracts by founding her own publishing house, making Anna the first solo female publisher in Russian history.

The result is a story that challenges ideas of empowerment, sacrifice, and female agency in nineteenth-century Russia—and a welcome new appraisal of an indomitable woman whose legacy has been nearly lost to literary history.

Andrew D. Kaufman is an associate professor, General Faculty, lecturer in Slavic Languages and Literatures, and assistant director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Virginia. A PhD in Slavic languages and literatures from Stanford University, Kaufman is the author of Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times and Understanding Tolstoy, and a coauthor of Russian for Dummies. His work has been featured on Today, NPR, and PBS, and in The Washington Post, and he has served as a Russian literature expert for Oprah’s Book Club. Kaufman is the creator of Books Behind Bars, introducing incarcerated youth to the writings of Dostoyevsky and other authors.

The Gambler Wife:
A True Story of Love, Risk,
and the Woman Who Saved Dostoyevsky
by Andrew D. Kaufman
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/31/2021
Hardcover
Pages: 400
ISBN-13: 9780525537144
$30.00

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