Monday, August 7, 2017

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Published 1880
Russian Literature Challenge, The Classics Club II,
Back to the Classics, The Manly Reading List

The Brothers Karamazov was a very important book that covered four of my reading challenges.  It was a highly anticipated read, and I did not take the commitment lightly.  Now that I am done, I am rather speechless -- in part because I still do not know how to write something worthy enough, but also because I am really too distracted to sit down and think about it clearly.  This is our last week of summer vacation, and we have big plans each day; but once school begins, any time to think about this book will be farther from realization than it is now.  I must have closure as soon as possible.

The Brothers Karamazov is serious reading.  I gave it up half way through until someone suggested that I read it one chapter per week.  I slowly returned to it.  It went smoothly until I came to the major event of the story, and then I could not put it down.  It moved rapidly; it was intense and wonderful.  It was well worth the struggle.

Russian authors, or at least those whom I have already read, often fascinate me because they are so similar in their story telling processes, demonstrating a theme of loyalty and admiration of their country, even if there is some disagreement on the author's part. These authors manipulate characters to represent philosophies, societies, and cultures, and my point is that Dostoevsky is no exception. If you have not read Brothers Karamazov and plan to one day, be prepared for much Russian nationalism or patriotism and philosophy.  Also, there is a heavy religious tone or theme, with references to Scripture and many questions about God and morality.  Oh, and lots of exploration of psychology, justice, and many other ideas, too.

Another major issue is the particulars of family.  Three young men grew up under a tyrannical father, without a mother's love and nurture, and now you understand why children benefit from loving, attentive, patient, and mentally stable fathers and mothers who raise them.  In other words, crappy childhoods may produce messed up adults.  It happens.

And then there is the family character as a whole symbolizing Russia, examining how outside conflicting forces and environments affect each man differently, causing the reader to consider how foreign influences may have altered the Russian people, society, government, and culture.  It is all very intriguing and perfect for a year-long study one of these days.  Or maybe in another life.

So, yes, this is superb reading, but it is also a serious commitment.  It took me months and months to read and almost half as long to blog about.  I could not put it off any longer, hence the unpretentious, inept post about this very complex story.  But yay! It is done.

I read my copy to pieces.


Paula Vince said...

Wow, I completely agree with you, it's hard to compress a book with such a huge scope into one review 😊 It's certainly all that you say. It deserves plenty of time to ponder. I've been mulling over the plot and characters since I finished, and plan to write something more about why they're so compelling. But it's finding the right words that's the challenge. I'm glad you pushed through and finished it.

Stephen said...

This sounds like an interesting book -- it's been recommended to me by both orthodox Christians and militant atheists. I like the concept of using a family to stand in for the country of Russia as a whole.

Ruth said...

Stephen, You'd probably enjoy and appreciate the political and historical aspect of BK. The religion presented in the story is Russian Orthodox, obviously, and then there is the challenge of the current philosophy of the day. It's very intriguing and complex, but not difficult to grasp.

Ruth said...

I cannot give it the time it requires or deserves, and it was just bothering me. I wanted to move on. Last night I found a film version (in Russian but w/ English subtitles) on Youtube that I plan to watch. It is in 12 parts. I'm really excited about watching it. So I can still enjoy the story, but it ti time to move on.

Gently Mad said...

I first read this book in my twenties and it blew me away. I was so sucked into the personalities of each brother, the monk and the horrible father. I have read that D. was displaying various parts of his own person through the brothers: Ivan was the intellect; Dmitry was the passion; and Alyosha was his Christian heart.

The most wrenching episode was when Ivan describes horrible cases of child abuse to Alyosha as some sort of proof that God cannot exist. That really challenged me when I first read it and I took years to ponder it. Then I realized that one cannot know something is evil unless there is good. There cannot be good without the law telling us what is evil and good. If there is a law, then there is a Lawgiver etc..

And as we know, Ivan outsmarted himself to the point of insanity.

So many good things about that story. You've inspired me to read it again.

Ruth said...

Oh, thank you so much, but I know my post is desperately incomplete. However, you have read it, so you know its depth.

I know I did read in another source that Dost. characters are a touch of him - sort of like mini autobiographies. There was something to love (or appreciate) about all of them.

The troubling question of how a loving God exists with so much suffering/evil in the world is a painful question to consider and answer. But we know why.

Now that you mention Ivan's insanity - I've been reading (just a tiny bit here and there) about "great minds" that rejected the notion of God -- they all died so confused and muddled and out of their heads (to some degree), like Rousseau, Voltaire, and Nietzsche. I wonder if there is a pattern.

Cleo said...

I went back and read my review and suddenly remembered how completely inept I felt when I was writing it, so I think you did an excellent job! It was not an easy book to read and nearly impossible to review. I did love how Dostoyevsky examined this Russian family in a microscopic way to make a larger commentary on the whole of society. I hadn't though of the characters being specifically Dostoyevsky although of course, if an author creates a character there is certainly something of them in them. I remembered the characters representing sensual materialism, rational nihilism and faith, these three beliefs often threading themselves through Russian literature, but it would be interesting if Dostoyevsky took both tacts, making the novel even more complex.

In any case, congratulations on finishing this amazing book. I'm going to try to read Crime and Punishment before the end of the year and I'm really looking forward to it!

Ruth said...

Well, thank you, Cleo, for your kind words. I went back and read your review, and I see that you did not begin to retell the story either; it remains a great mystery to the one who has not read it, yet. BK one of those books that when you finish reading it you think, How the heck am I supposed to paraphrase this? It is much simpler to just say, This is what BK entails; be forewarned.

I like how each character symbolized the three ideas you listed, which makes sense to me. I totally see that. Very true of Russian literature.

Do you know when you plan to read C&P? After reading BK, his final novel, I now think of C&P (one of his first novels) as like a dawning of his ideas in writing. I fell in love w/ C&P and desire to read it again - and especially now after reading BK - even though C&P is no where on my reading lists this year, and I will probably not meet the end of any of my reading challenges. But I just feel the need to read C&P. If you'd like reading company, I'd gladly join you.

Cleo said...

I'm planning to start it probably mid-September if that works for you. I'm happy to take it slowly too. Dostoyevsky takes much thought and rushing through him doesn't tend to work very well. Just let me know!

Ruth said...

Sounds good to me. I especially need to keep it slow toward the end.b/c I struggled w/ that the first time I read it. Dost. really back-loaded this novel w/ his theological ideas.

Fanda Classiclit said...

I will be reading Karamazov on November, and have been looking forward to it.
Judging from your review, I will love it, thanks Ruth!
And I will take a mental note to tackle it slowly and patiently--one chapter a week (how many chapters are there, by the way?)

Ruth said...

Hi, Fanda,
There are a lot of chapters in this book; it is also broken up into 12 books (or something like that). You may want to do more than one chapter a week. When someone told me to do that, I was already more than halfway through; one chapter a week seemed doable, until it became really intense, and then I had to keep reading. Good luck!

o said...

I'm in awe of your review! I've read this before, a while back, and I liked it but didn't quite get it. Since then I've been meaning to re-read it but I've been too scared! You've given me some confidence though, you've made it look a lot clearer. I'll give it another shot... :)

Ruth said...

Thank you, o, but you are really, really kind. I was paralyzed in my writing about it, but I noticed I am not alone. It is really challenging to review this story. It's something that remains with you and you keep to yourself. I was very confused in the first half of the story, but the second half was much clearer. I mean, it clarified the first part of the story (for me).

RT said...

Bravo! I read TBK years ago and should revisit it for the religious aspects if nothing else. Thanks for the superb posting, reminder, and catalyst.

Joseph said...

Of course it's impossible to do a book like this justice in a few paragraphs (or even a few dozen). Nonetheless, I loved to read your passion and excitement for this masterpiece. I have loved the Russian authors I've read, and like you was at first surprised they did not seem that foreign. I think that's fairly close to your reaction anyway :)