I've been milking this read for well-nigh a week now and as the end draws ever nearer, I am almost overwhelmed with sadness that this book will soon rI've been milking this read for well-nigh a week now and as the end draws ever nearer, I am almost overwhelmed with sadness that this book will soon return to its home on my shelf and my short time with Alyosha, Grushenka, Ivan, and Dmitri will be over. It is easy to see why this is considered Dostoevsky's magnum opus.
I've read quite a few of Dostoevsky's books over the past few years but I can think of none that I've relished to the extent that I have The Brothers Karamazov. Dostoevsky's skill at creating fully-fleshed characters that are beautiful in all of their faults is unparalleled. Along with these amazingly real characters, Dostoevsky manages to address issues of faith, morality, and the ties that bind a family in ways that make them easy to comprehend to the lay reader.
Whether you're looking for a book with which to open up the vast expanse of Russian literature or even just looking for an interesting book that offers up vividly real characters in some of the most florid prose, The Brothers Karamazov is not a book to be missed....more
Whoa. I want to make love to this book. It is hands-down the sexiest edition of any book that I've ever come across. From the smooth blue of the dustWhoa. I want to make love to this book. It is hands-down the sexiest edition of any book that I've ever come across. From the smooth blue of the dust jacket to the L.T. imprinted in a stylish Gothic script on the book itself- this is what books should strive to look like. I don't judge books by the cover, but I'm in love with this book's cover....more
I knew that this was going to be a book that I loved the moment I learned that Satan was the main character. This is not due to any particular affinitI knew that this was going to be a book that I loved the moment I learned that Satan was the main character. This is not due to any particular affinity for devil worship on my part, but because I love Tricksters in literature and in Western civilization you don't get a better trickster than the devil. Watching him turn Stalinist Moscow on its head proved to be one of the most amusing and engrossing things I've read all year.
From the moment he first materializes as the black magician Woland at a pond and predicts the impending death of the renowned writer he meets there (after listening to the writer's various proofs as to why there can not be an actual god), the devil inspires a plague of madness as increasingly odd and impossible events occur to shock the strictly rational, science-based, citizens. Whether hosting a seance that leaves the ladies of Moscow in the street wearing nothing but their undergarments, teleporting hapless theatre owners to Yalta or haunting telephone lines, Woland and his retinue of demonic cohorts know exactly how to play upon the foibles of human nature and prove rather easily that, regardless of what the Soviets may claim about their forced evolution of humanity, humans are just as greedy, gullible, and ridiculous as they ever were.
The heart of the book, however, belongs to the titular Master. An author hounded to the madhouse by the rabid criticisms leveled on his masterpiece by the Moscow literati, his book within the book about the Crucifixion from the point of view of Pontius Pilate is what I've found sticking with me in the days since finishing. It's no easy feat to make a sympathetic character of a bureaucrat who has been so forcefully demonized over the past two millennia but Bulgakov (and through him, the Master) performs an excellent bit of magic and you find yourself really feeling for Pilate as he is manipulated by forces outside of his control into killing Christ, who is sad that his apostle, Matthew, is twisting his words while recording them.
While there are definitely a handful of moments where I wish I would have known more about Stalinist Russia, the state-approved entertainer's guilds and the ever-present fear of the police in order to better understand Bulgakov's satire, I still had a rollicking good time while reading this and it stands up next to Crime & Punishment as one of my favorite works of Russian literature....more
I don't know why, but I always find it difficult to properly review a Russian novel. I find myself unable to decide upon whether to focus on the novelI don't know why, but I always find it difficult to properly review a Russian novel. I find myself unable to decide upon whether to focus on the novel itself and the events therein or that novel's place within the bigger picture of Russian Literature. Normally I'd just take each book on a judge-as-you-go basis, but there's something intrinsic to Russian Lit that almost begs the reader to compare it to what has come before. It certainly doesn't help matters that most of these books refer to one another, critique the ideas therein and build upon them. Reading some Russian books is like diving into an ongoing, centuries-long, debate about Russian identity, history and culture.
Pasternak, more ably than some I've read lately, does a magnificent job of framing the events of Dr. Zhivago within the context of the larger historic picture laid out by Tolstoy. Charting not only the events leading up to the October Revolution of 1917 but the ideas that inspired these events, the reader gets a great idea of the turmoil engulfing the nation in the wake of the overthrow of the Tsars. While some readers are liable to be bored by the sections detailing the debates between the disparate political philosophies struggling to win out in the post-tsarist power vacuum, I was absolutely in love. Not only were people discussing the actual implimentation of some of my favorite philosopher's theories (theories normally discounted as utopian idealism by jaded contemporaries), but it was refreshing to see these ideas in a context outside of the dry scholarly texts in which they originally appeared. I also appreciated these aspects of the story because they helped show that the Soviet Union did not spring fully formed from the mind of any one person but, rather, was the result of a long and bloody civil war between not only the Reds (communists) and Whites (Cossacks) but the Greens (Anarchists) and Browns (???) as well. A war of ideas for the future of a nation.
Many potential readers may be scared off by the above paragraph, but rest assured, this book is not all pontificating and prevaricating. Pasternak, in true Tolstoyan form, introduces us to Yurii Zhivago- doctor, poet, pawn of history. We follow Zhivago as he grows up, becomes a doctor, gets married, joins the army to fight against Austria and Germany, gets swept up first in the Revolution and then in the civil war as doctor to a ragged band of partisans hiding in the forests. He never chooses these roads for himself but is instead buffeted about like debris in a gale, always striving to return to his wife and children but somehow always ending up in the arms of a compassionate nurse instead. We see him starve and freeze and cram like cattle into a box car and are given a glimpse of the very real consequences of uprooting the entire underlying structure of a nation.
While, overall, it's an enjoyable read, this would not be one that I would recommend to someone just beginning to dip into the huge well of Russian Lit. Better to start off with Uncle Fyodr or Leo, get your feet wet, so to speak, then try out Pasternak. ...more
For the past month or so I have been regrettably absent from the nets that I like to call my digital home. Real life demands have left me with preciouFor the past month or so I have been regrettably absent from the nets that I like to call my digital home. Real life demands have left me with precious little time to call my own and, more frightening still, the books that have found their way into my hands have not been inspiring me to take to the webs and shout my opinions into the ether with my usual gusto. Yes, I was in the grip of a mid-winter malaise second to none where everything I read, saw, or listened to just seemed either like it was trying too hard to be something that it wasn’t or was emotionally empty pap that entertained but left little behind in its passing. This was true until I finally cracked the spine on Sergei Lukyanenko’s fantastic Night Watch. Finally, a book that was everything I wanted to read at that moment: entertaining but thought-provoking, engaging while still making me pause to appreciate a particularly good passage. I knew I had been saving this series for a rainy day for a reason.
On face this is a standard tale of good vs. evil as performed by a motley collection of magicians, shape-shifters, vampires and werewolves trying to preserve an ancient truce between the forces of Light and Darkness. The keepers of this truce are the titular Night Watch, agents of the Light who watch over the night to make sure that the balance of power is maintained, and the Day Watch, agents of the Dark who oversee the sunlit hours. Anton Gorodetsky is a mid-grade Light Magician working as an analyst with the Night Watch, new to field work, who quickly becomes an important pawn in the latest scheme by the Day Watch to tilt the balance of power in their favor.
A familiar scenario but for the uniquely Russian ability to interject large amounts of ethical ambiguity and age old moral dilemmas (see: Kant- Utilitarianism) into a novel without it seeming heavy-handed or needlessly digressive. As Anton is drawn deeper into the secrets of the Watch, he is forced again and again to make extremely difficult decisions and manipulate events in ways that go against the core values of the Light but, as Gesar, the ancient magician who heads the Moscow offices of the Night Watch, likes to remind Anton- it’s all about the net effect. As long as the amount of good created by an action outweighs the possible harm, the Night Watch is able to act with a free hand. With as vague a definition as this, it is no wonder that the Light has been inadvertently responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the 20th Century and Anton comes to realize that the Day Watch does just as much to hold back the ambitions of the Light as his cadre stops the Dark. Realizing that he is a bit player in a far larger show than he first thought, Anton tries as best he can to break out of the predictable paths that his superiors are relying on him to follow, which leads to a fair amount of madness in the streets of post-Soviet Moscow.
In Night Watch, Lukyanenko has crafted that rarest of gems- a story that manages to both thrill and excite with non-stop action and grand descriptions of magical powers while also forcing the reader to wonder what they would do in that situation. If one had the ability to become an Other, would you return from the Twilight as an agent of the Light or an agent of the Dark? Could you license vampires to feed upon the innocent even if it helps preserve a precarious peace? Could you take it upon yourself to rewrite a person’s destiny to push them closer toward the Light, or does that smack too much of compelling goodness (a contradiction in terms if there ever was one)? These are the thoughts that the book left me with upon finishing and I could not help but turn immediately to the sequel for another serving of some of the best story-telling I’ve read all year.