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Dostoevsky’s The Idiot helped Nico Walker through his prison sentence.


April 6, 2021, 12:56pm

It’s been a month since the release of Cherry, the big-budget adaptation of Nico Walker’s debut novel-from-life about an Iraq veteran turned heroin addict turned bank robber. Incredibly, Cherry (the book), lauded as a “miracle of literary serendipity” and “epic and exhilarating, foul and touching,” was written while Walker was in prison, corresponding with Giancarlo DiTrapano and Matthew Johnson about edits. In an interview with Jacobin, Walker [noted] that he “taught [himself] way more in prison than [he’d] ever learned in school” as a tutor for the GED program, and singled out Dostoevsky as one of his teachers:

As far as literature goes, Dostoevsky’s The Idiot stands out. The selection at Youngstown jail was not great; it was a lot of Louis L’Amour books and thrillers, which I didn’t really enjoy. But I chanced into a copy of The Idiot and saw how he balances a farce and a tragedy at the same time, and does these amazingly well-executed scenes where someone is showing their ass. The guy writes social awkwardness so well. I’d never reread books before, but being in jail, there weren’t a lot of good books, so if you found a good book, you’d read it over and over again the way you’d watch a DVD over and over again. When you do that, you can see how it’s done.

Walker isn’t alone in his love of Dostoevsky, but he’s not unchallenged—his take is definitely more flattering than Nabokov’s, who didn’t care for Dostoevsky’s writing. But Nabokov didn’t care for a lot of people.

Cherry is available here.

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