Jim's Reviews > The Brothers Karamazov: A Novel in Four Parts With Epilogue

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Dec 09, 10

bookshelves: re-read, classics
Read from October 18 to December 09, 2010

I've read this book twice before. Each time it's been a different experience. This time I read it with a small group, and soon after I'd committed myself I had to wonder why. Dostoevsky the prophet, the mystical Christian, is insufferable; and my youthful enthusiasm for his celebrated "existentialism" has long disappeared, leaving only a tortured taste in my mind. I dreaded slogging through all that again.

What I'd forgotten was Dostoevsky's superb comic gift, which surfaces again and again in this supposed spiritual masterpiece (especially good in this translation). The farcical scenes with "old buffoon" Karamazov; the widow Khokhlakov; and Ivan's devil are hilarious – achieving at points a sublime Nabokovian wickedness. And (despite myself) I was stunned, all over again, by the two magnificent chapters that define the book: "Rebellion" and "The Grand Inquisitor" – which are as inspired as anything ever written. Then again, there are dreadful cloying patches – Zosima's disquisitions on universal suffering; the ur-Dickensian Snegiryov family; Dmitri's "wee one" (etc.), which were even worse than I'd remembered.

The Brothers Karamazov is generally compared with Tolstoy's War and Peace, both acclaimed as summits of world literature – but what struck me about both books is that their authors almost destroy their books in the last hundred pages. With Tolstoy we get soporific divagations on the nature of war and human history; with Dostoevsky there is Dmitri's interminable trial and Alyosha's insipid speech. Genius never knows when to shut up.
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Reading Progress

10/18/2010 page 197
24.0% "I'm re-reading this apocalyptic psycho-religious comic novel with a book group. I first read it in 1976, and it crushed me. I thought I'd never open it again: my memory was of a sour God-haunted nutcase dedicated to destroying his most miraculous character: Ivan Karamazov. This time, about 200 pages in, I'm amazed again: Dostoevsky creates pathos & comedy at the same lacerated extremity of human experience."
10/18/2010 page 197
24.0% "I'm re-reading this apocalyptic psycho-religious comic novel with a book group. I first read it in 1976, and again in the early 90s. I thought I'd never open it again: my memory was of a daemonic genius dedicated to destroying his most miraculous character: Ivan Karamazov. This time, about 200 pages in, I'm astonished again: Dostoevsky creates pathos & comedy at the same lacerated extremity of human experience."

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Fatin (new)

Fatin Well, you do have to account the fact that he meant to write two more books on the brothers, but he died


message 2: by Jim (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jim Yes, thank God.


howl of minerva Jim wrote: "Yes, thank God."

:)

This is, as they say, a Great novel but not necessarily a good one and I agree that D. is often insufferable. Hats off for not turning off your brain and subscribing to the almost obligatory unquestioning reverence.

To take another example, the first third of Crime & Punishment is like a fever dream, it's one of the most extraordinary things I've read. But the second third is average at best and the final third is simply crap.


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