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The Brothers Karamazov (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 27 Feb 2003
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When brutal landowner Fyodor Karamazov is murdered, the lives of his sons are changed irrevocably: Mitya, the sensualist, whose bitter rivalry with his father immediately places him under suspicion for parricide; Ivan, the intellectual, whose mental tortures drive him to breakdown; the spiritual Alyosha, who tries to heal the family's rifts; and the shadowy figure of their bastard half-brother Smerdyakov. As the ensuing investigation and trial reveal the true identity of the murderer, Dostoyevsky's dark masterpiece evokes a world where the lines between innocence and corruption, good and evil, blur and everyone's faith in humanity is tested.
About the Author
Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was born in Moscow in 1821. His debut, the epistolary novella Poor Folk(1846), made his name. In 1849 he was arrested for involvement with the politically subversive 'Petrashevsky circle' and until 1854 he lived in a convict prison in Omsk, Siberia. From this experience came The House of the Dead (1860-2). In 1860 he began the journal Vremya (Time). Already married, he fell in love with one of his contributors, Appollinaria Suslova, eighteen years his junior, and developed a ruinous passion for roulette. After the death of his first wife, Maria, in 1864, Dostoyevsky completed Notes from Underground and began work towards Crime and Punishment (1866). The major novels of his late period are The Idiot (1868), Demons(1871-2) and The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80). He died in 1881.
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The story follows Raskolnikov’s emotional collapse and psychological disorder. He is plagued with paranoia and fear of discovery. Everyone around him becomes a potential threat and by the time a man eventually confronts him with belief of his culpability he has already suffered one thousand accusations in his own mind. The net closes but very slowly. His class seems to protect him more than he deserves. He pushes everyone away and yet feels constantly surrounded, hounded even.
It’s an intense and claustrophobic read. It doesn’t move forward as much as spiral inwards. The characters are left sketchily drawn as Raskolnikov avoids them when possible and we rarely get to see below their surfaces. Raskolnikov's own journey is not one of growth. If you are expecting a character arc you will be disappointed, but what you get instead is powerful in its own right.
This book came about due to things that Dostoevsky had started to write but had never finished, and thus he incorporated some of those elements into this, and whilst writing this his son tragically died and thus the character, indeed the hero of the book, Alyosha is named after him. The narrator of this tale who is never named also arguably becomes a character as we hear his thoughts and evaluations on certain matters throughout.
With philosophical and religious thoughts and ideas overshadowing this tale this does become quite deep and thought provoking. In the way this is set out we sort of have two interrelated tales, with one half being an introduction to the characters, and the second half being a tale of murder and theft. It is this structure that does put some people off from completing this, but it does work, and very well. By the second part we have become very familiar with the characters, and how they behave and their individual foibles.
With a father having three sons, one by one marriage, the other two by a second marriage, we also are led to believe that he possibly has another, illegitimate son who he doesn’t recognise as such but employs in his home. As the father is murdered and money disappears, so one son becomes the prime suspect, but is he the murderer? We follow onto the trial here before this novel reaches its conclusion.
With numerous literary references and in a couple of cases stories within the main tale this is something that does become quite complex. There is also not really that much description here, this mainly becomes a character driven tale with their actions and voices at the forefront. As an allegory as such of society moving towards a more modern material one this works well, and we can also perceive Dostoevsky’s dreams of a more just and thoughtful society where hopefully things will be better. What does come over really well here are the events leading to murder, and we are made to think of other people’s actions that made it possible for the actual murder to take place. As such this is always well worth reading, and is very rewarding.