Book Review: The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov, written by Fyodor Dostoevsky, is the final novel of the great russian. The only other work I’ve read by Dostoevsky is Crime and Punishment, a novel I greatly loved, but that would be the topic of another book review that I may never write!

The Brothers Karamazov (BK) has been in my possession now for far too long, and I’ve been putting off reading it. This was mostly driven by its enormity, and my want for something easy to read.

So after a quick attempt at BK, I jumped on the Jasper Fford band wagon along with many other books. But I resolved in December that I would finish this book! So here it is!

I must first say, as I often do at the beginning of a book review, there is far too much to dive into here. I’m not attempting to analyze the book from cover to cover and write an essay (oh how much work THAT would be). My book reviews are more selfish in their nature. I simply want to catalog the books I read, as I read them, and jot down my thoughts.

BK follows the family Karamazov in a small town in Russia in the mid 19th century. The father is Fyodor Pavlovich, with three sons: Dmitri Fyodorovich, Ivan Fyodorvich, and Alexei Fyodorvich. The first bore by one mother, the following two by another. The story is a courtroom drama, surrounding some very unfortunate events involving the characters above, along with a few other important people.

BK surprised me. As I mentioned above, I’ve attempted to read this book before, but quickly became disinterested. I felt there wasn’t much happening in terms of plot, and that Dostoevsky was writing at length regarding topics that didn’t seem relevant. But as this is a courtroom drama, you’d be surprised at how many details are relevant.

The book is more than its ultimate tragedy. There are some serious discussions regarding God, marriage, and family. There is a particular discussion between brothers Ivan and Alexei in a pub where Ivan explains how he does not believe in God to Alexei, a pseduo-monk. It’s a very great read. I learned a lot about the Russian way of life, and a little of the Russian language. A co-worker of mine helped me pronounce the names of the characters as well as other objects/places a little more accurately.

By the end of the book I didn’t want to put it down. Dostoevsky’s pace and style is a beautiful example of artwork on page. He so perfectly can capture what his characters are thinking, how they’re acting, and why. Not only is Dostoevsky an artist for his literary style, but he is clearly a student of humankind. His writing is filled with biblical, social, and political references.* I would liken him to J.R.R. Tolkien. I found when reading the great Lord of the Rings, I was captured by Tolkien’s descriptive style. Dostoevsky is the same way.

Compared against Crime and Punishment (CP), I find it tough to choose a favourite. CP was an examination of desperation and human guilt, while BK forces us to analyze our own families and how we understand those relationships.

Whatever the better novel, I highly recommend reading both. They are indeed mountainous, but worth every word.

Happy Reading!

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* Dostoevsky, being russian, of course wrote in russian! This translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is apparently one of the best out there, capturing Dostoevsky’s style and poetry. It also came complete with endnotes, helping me understand the obvious and not-so-obvious references prevalent through the text.

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