on 22 September 2014
Obviously, the book is fantastic. I don't speak Russian and I haven't read any others so I can't comment on the translation.
However, if you want to read it for kicks rather than showing off, cover up the back cover with something, the blurb gives away a massive turn in the plot that doesn't come about until past page 500. Perhaps the story of The Brothers Karamazov is common knowledge to everyone else. There's plenty to keep you interested before page 505, so it'd be nice not to have to ponder the event before the author wants us to. If it is mentioned early on and I'm being an ass I apologise, but I don't think it is.
This is a book that, as one reviewer put it, "has everything" in it. To that someone retorted "so does the Argos book". So is The Brothers Karamazov a sweeping epic that reveals new and telling things about the human psyche and what it means to be Russian? Or is it an overblown, boring book of useless tat that should ultimately be discarded?
It is without doubt the former.
For those who have read the other reviews and are left with a sense of trepidation - please allay those fears. Yes this book is long, yes there are a couple of moments in which Dostoevsky wanders off to satisfy his need for religious philosophy (though only twice did I find the book slow in its pace) but ultimately it is compelling. Written today it would no doubt be whittled down by an over-zealous editor - the fact that we have such an overblown novel, warts and all is actually the whole point - it is a reflection of life - which as we all know - is not smooth sailing or nicely manicured lawns.
The plot itself is fairly simple - we are introduced to the Karamazovs - the landowner father and his three sons - plus their servants. What plays out is essentially a family drama with its crescendo as a murder and trial. Upon this simple(ish) tale Dostoevsky is able to execute a stunning portrayal of human motivations, jealousies and ultimately understanding. Every character is superbly drawn with their own foibles and more importantly inconsistencies, making them realistic and perfect tapestries upon which the author can hang his philosophy and beliefs.
There is little of the usual repetition that can blight Dostoevsky's style, making the near 1000 pages pass quicker than you may initially imagine. Having said that, this is not a book that you can read in a fortnight. You must commit to the fact that it will take some time to get through, but it isn't anywhere near as difficult as some other reviewers are making out. Just sit back and revel in the staggering achievement. You will be richer for the experience and will be blessed with a new found and deeper understanding into your fellow man, society and Dostoevsky himself - for this is him in a book. All raging, kicking, screaming, thinking and praying - truly one of the landmarks in world literature.
on 14 March 2005
If I remember well, in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5, there's a character that says that "The Brothers Karamazov" is the only book one has to read, because everything's in it.
This is the mos apropriate comment I've ever read on this book: From the live of the Starets Zossima, to the impressive tale of the Grand Inquisitor, and the incredible dialogue of Ivan and the devil, the book is filled with memorable scenes and reflections that will stick to your memory forever.
The characters are complex (as in any major Dostoyevsky book), deep, and deeply distressed, and every usual theme of Dostoyevsky's works is here, and it's at its best...
The great masterpiece of one of the best writers in the history of universal literature.
It has been ages since I last read this story, but I felt like gorging myself on quite a large novel and have been relaxing and reading this masterpiece. This particular book was the last completed novel by Dostoevsky before his untimely death by pulmonary haemorrhage.
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.
on 22 July 2011
I read this large book in regular short periods and despite its numerous long dialogues found myself always eager to find out what was happening on the next page. It is a great classic worth reading.
It was written between 1878-9 and is the last of Dostoyevsky (1821-81). Many events that featured in the author's life are reflected in this book. Dostoyevsky's father was head physician in a hospital and was apparently murdered by some serfs on his estate. In the book, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, the father of the brothers, is presented as a landowner with a few servants and is murdered in curious circumstances. Dostoyevsky studied at the Military Engineering College in St Petersburg, was some years later arrested for political offences against the Russian state and sentenced to penal servitude in Siberia; he was widowed of his first wife; in the meantime he became addicted to gambling, and was rescued in his mid forties from his various debts by his twenty-year-old stenographer, who became his second wife. Elements of this, transformed, feature in the characterisation of the eldest brother Mitya Karamazov. Dostoyevsky had four children by this younger wife, two of whom died very young; his son Aleksey died in 1878 at the age of two soon after which this book was begun. This death is reflected at the end of the book by the death of the poor boy Ilyushenchka. Whereas the name Aleksey or Alyosha is given to the youngest of the brothers Karamazov.
Alyosha is the most attractive personality in the work; he is a humble and intelligent young man with the soul of an innocent child; a mystic who goes to reside in the local monastery, where he attaches himself to the elder Zozima, until the latter's death, which occurs shortly before the murder. Zozima is presented as a priest-monk with the reputation of a wise saint, but who curiously gets on quite well with the absurd and immoral father Karamazov when the family fights out a dispute in his cell. Alyosha's older brother Ivan Karamazov is an intellectual who is mentally tortured by, among others, the question whether there is a God. From his mouth comes the famous fable of the Grand Inquisitor, who arrests Jesus when he appears, because people cannot cope with the freedom that he preaches. Ivan also says that he wants to return his ticket to God for he does not want part in a salvation that requires the extreme and unjust suffering of children and others that goes on in the world. Yet, Ivan's own statement that `all things are lawful' will turn out very detrimental, and eventually he will encounter the devil in his hallucinations. Then there is the furtive figure of Smerdyakov, who is the bastard son of Karamazov, though never formerly recognized as such by the latter. The brothers are of course involved with females, who are described in detail as well.
Many characters in this book are tainted by weakness, they are inconsistent, sometimes malicious, and they disappoint, even perhaps Zozima. Worth mentioning is that when Zozima narrates his life he is made to express the vision that all creatures have been given a purpose in life, are turned towards God and are expressive of a great mystery. All creatures except human beings know the path they have to follow. The book's finale, however, following Ilyushenchka's funeral, is a magnificent and ecstatic speech of Alyosha to the schoolboys. It is a statement of faith and love and a recognition of the magnificence of life, despite all, if one is willing to do some good and upright thing. But it does not wipe out the doubt, tragedy, irony and ambivalence that has featured throughout the book.
on 12 May 2011
I've just finished the novel and feel like I've been beaten to a pulp by a pro boxer. All of FD's earlier themes and narrative tricks are here in spades and the concluding sequence describing the trial of Mitya K is as good as the interrogation scenes in Crime and Punishment (and that's good!). The conversation between Ivan K and the "devil" - his own tormented soul and mental illness - is one of the most sinister and spine-chilling chapters of literature I've ever read. But it's not all gloom and doom because the master's bleak, black humour is evident throughout, as it is in Demons. It's sometimes easy to exaggerate these things but FD was as good a writer as William Shakespeare - even though he has one character announce "There are no Hamlets in Russia" (a swipe at fellow writer and loan provider Ivan Turgenev who wrote the short story 'Hamlet of the Shchigrovksy District'). I feel like someone in a cola advert by saying this - but what we have here is Awesome!
on 31 October 2013
I don't know Dostoevsky, and I've wanted to read this for a long time. I'm drawn into the story, and I very much like the comments direct to the reader. But sadly the translation is either poorly edited, or written by someone with a poor grasp of English. I have given up at 'Except Fyodor Pavlovitch, more of the party had ever seen the monastery, and Miusov had probably not even been to church for thirty years.' Why do publishers let this happen?
on 20 July 2015
Great story but not easy to read. The characters all have several names. In the Russian language people are now by their formal name plus several diminutives and this leads to a problem of working out who's who. I have started this book several times but never finished it before. The Kindle "look up" facility has made the book more readable.
on 2 June 2008
Dostoeyvsky's last novel is a huge doorstopper of a tome and probably his most ambitious work. The theme of religion looms large with Dostoyevsky confronting the chaos and despair that comes from the absence of God. Ivan Karamazov says: "without God, all is permitted" and this becomes one of the key preoccupations of the book.
Dostoevsky goes into typically tortuous detail on the motivations of his characters, nothing is as simple as it seems, and all actions are subjected to the most intense scrutiny. Dmitry Karamazov in particular is a hugely contradictory character in the classic Dostoyevskian mode, capable of great tenderness and utter selfishness, conscience-ridden but often utterly amoral, passion-crazed and self-destructive. Alyosha Karamazov, on the other hand, is another embodiment of the "holy fool" type character beloved of Dostoyevsky.
Alyosha aside, however, Dostoyevsky goes out of his way to depict the duality of his characters natures, showing their enormous capacity for good alongside a similar disposition towards evil and, while this may serve to illustrate Dostoyevsky's view of human nature, it does lead to much unfathomable erraticism in their behaviour. The mood changes many of the characters undergo are little short of psychotic. "Frenziedly" and "hysterically" are two much overused adverbs in this novel. Dostoyevsky's characters seem always on the edge of hysteria, perhaps reflecting his own character. I found this occasionally trying, especially towards the beginning, but as the novel progresses it gains a momentum of its own and interest centres on the themes of redemption, guilt, suffering, to name but a few.
In general, this novel is of a more optimistic tone than Dostoyevsky's earlier work such as "Crime and Punishment". This is especially evident in the scenes involving little Illyusha and his classmates, as they fall under the influence of Alyosha. This subplot provides the most moving scenes in the book.
"The Brothers Karamazov" is a huge, meandering study of human psychology and what has become known as Existentialism. It is sometimes moving, sometimes provocative and sometimes, in my view, unfocused. It may well be, as has been said, one of the great novels of world literature but it is probably most likely to be appreciated by those who enjoyed Dostoyevsky's other works. It is less accessible than "Crime and Punishment", but more rounded in its view of humanity.
I have not read any other translations than this one, by David McDuff, so I can't compare but the language here often struck me as odd. To give the only example I can recall offhand, the phrase "like a blow of a knife" is used somewhere near the end. This, and other phrases used in this translation, I found somewhat jarring.
on 14 June 2014
I have to admit it bored me :( I love Dostoevsky and regard him as one of the best writers ever so it made me sad that I couldn't go through whole thing.
But, it's not a bad book. It has all that amazes you in his writing, the problem maybe is it has more than of it that it should. I read later that this particular novel was written in parts for a newspaper and Fiodor was paid for word - and I guess this may the reason it contains so much unnecessary things. And it's not like I don't like long books full of vast descriptions of clothes, landscapes etc. I like'em, I love Balzac, Dostoewsky, Stendhal etc This time however goes far too far. You can skip whole chapters without loosing anything at all, there are many conversations which don't change anything, utterly superfluous. Still, it's not a bad book, simply too long, so if you have more patience than myself you'll probably enjoy it and if don't and you're looking to read your first Dostoevsky's book, please don't start with this one. He's really THE great writer.