Fyodor Dostoevsky, a fearless writer who spoke against the Soviet rule, was sent to exile in Kazakhstan and occupied a small wooden house from 1857 to 1859, along with his wife and baby. Today, a museum stands to honor the great writer during his stay in the city of Semey in East Kazakhstan, near the border of Siberia, about a thousand kilometers north of Almaty. The museum is called the Semipalatinsk House of Dostoevsky. (Semipalatinsk is the old name of Semey.)
The museum displays Dostoevskys life from his childhood days in Moscow, growing up in St. Petersburg, four years of jail time in Omsk, another five years of forced military service in Semey, his works and his creative life as a writer from 1860 to 1881. The Dostoevsky House features a number of images of the writer labeled in Russian. The rooms where he lived were maintained as they were before so that people today could vividly imagine how the famous writer lived. The museum stands right beside the wooden house were Dostoevsky was held in exile for two years. A street in Semey was named after the famous novelist.
The writer’s forced military service also in Semey was part of his exile. He served as a corporal in the First Siberian Company of the Seventh Line Battalion at the Semipalatinsk Garrison for five years, beginning in 1854. It is clear that many of his experiences in the Russian military made it to his highly acclaimed book, The Brothers Karamazov, which means the five-year forced service for the Soviets actually led to something good in the end. He recalled his life in the military: When I left my melancholy prison, I arrived here with happiness and hope. I resembled a sick person who is beginning to recover after a long illness, and having been at death’s door, even more strongly feels the pleasure of living during the first days of his recovery. I had a lot of hope. I wanted to live.
Before his Semey exile, he just spent four years in the Omsk prison camp. He talked about his life in prison: “My constant focus inwards, where I ran from bitter reality, brought forth its own fruits.” He was a calm and self-actualized person, drawing his strength from the Book of Job. He reflected on life, “It seems to me that happiness is in a radiant view of life and in an unblemished heart, not in external things.
The years spent in Semipalatinsk were his easy years. It was in this Kazakh city where he was able to write again. He talked about his new found opportunities to write: “There is clarity in my soul. It’s as though I have my whole future and everything that I’ll do right before my eyes.” The city created quite an impact in the life of the writer. It was here where he met some of his long-lasting friends and reflected deeply about life. He changed residences four times, and one of the houses he lived in was windowless, dark, and located in a wasteland outside the city.
The Semipalatinsk House of Dostoevsky museum was opened on May 7, 1971. In 1976, an annex was added to the original museum. The annex looks like a half-open book. At the entrance is a bronze sculpture of the writer and on the walls are two paintings, “The Writer’s Study” and “Dostoevsky’s Petersburg.