Alex's Reviews > The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Sep 29, 2011

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bookshelves: 2011, reading-through-history, favorite-reviews, russia, rth-lifetime
Recommended for: masochists
Read from October 30 to November 20, 2011

Brothers Karamazov is an exceptionally tricky and intricate book. It's also an exceptional pain in the ass. I might have to create a new shelf for it called "I'd Have To Read It Again To Get It But I'd Rather Just Not Get It." Tristram Shandy can join it there. The first problem is when a speech is so long that it reminds you of Atlas Shrugged. The second problem is that when I finished it just now, the words that unconsciously escaped my mouth were, "Well, fuck you Karamazov."

Here's a game I made up during the interminable ramblings of Elder Zosima: Zosima or Baz? Guess whether each boring platitude below is from the Elder Zosima or Baz Luhrmann's 1998 novelty hit, "Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)":

a. Don't be reckless with other peoples' hearts; don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.
b. Keep company with yourself and look to yourself every day and hour, every minute.
c. Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth.
d. Cherish your ecstasy, however senseless it may seem.
e. Love children especially.

Answers at end of review

Okay, I almost never had a good time reading this book. Why'd I give it four stars? One reason: cowardice.

Listen, I know this book's smarter than me. Its inventiveness is impressive. Watch how careful Dostoevsky is with words: how each character, including the narrator, uses and misuses them, repeats them, throws them to each other. Check out how the stories - Ilyusha and Dmitri, Katya and Grushenka - intertwine. Feel how the word "Karamazovian" implants itself in you: you wouldn't be able to say what it means, maybe, I probably can't, but you'll know it when you see it from now on. Debate whether the whole thing is a comedy or a tragedy.

Before I read them, I used to think Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were probably more or less the same, y'know? Like, old Russian guys who wrote crazy long books, how different can they be? But they're not the same at all. Tolstoy is exceptionally controlled. Dostoevsky is pure virtuosity. I don't mean to say he doesn't know what he's doing; actually, Karamazov is more tightly structured than War & Peace is. But the energy behind it is more or less insane.

Four stars because I know this book is good; if I give it two stars, it would be like admitting that I let a brilliant masterpiece escape me for the prosaic reason that it's incredibly fucking boring. Y'know?

Four stars, dude. A brilliant masterpiece.

Introduction note: You can and should read the first section of Pevear & Volokhonsky's intro, up to p. xiv. It gives you great background. Get out quick after that though - right after "transforming them finally into a universal human drama" - 'cause they're gonna blow the whole plot in the next paragraph.

I forget which brother is which
Liz M. said this and it's perfect:
"Alyosha = superego or soul (youngest brother)
Ivan = ego or head (middle brother)
Dimitri = id or heart (eldest brother) "

If you haven't read Dostoevsky before: Start with Crime and Punishment. It's a better read.

Quiz Answers: Fuck you, Karamazov.
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Reading Progress

02/02/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-22 of 22) (22 new)

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message 1: by Karen (new) - added it

Karen Witzler I am going to have to try again.

Alex Really? This review makes you want to try again? Clearly I've failed.

Jennifer Ha!! Nice! I had an impossible time writing a review for this book...and don't think I actually ever got around to it...should check that.

Alex You did. It was a weird one; you said it was brilliant, but I felt a lack of enthusiasm behind it. Although I may have been projecting.

Jennifer Alex wrote: "You did. It was a weird one; you said it was brilliant, but I felt a lack of enthusiasm behind it. Although I may have been projecting."

I was exhausted afterwards. Having the review box pop-up as soon as you finish a book here stresses me out! :D

Also, I recalled this afternoon that this was the book I was going to try a drunken-El review style on and it didn't work. Probably my lack of enthusiasm reflects the disappointment in myself for not being able to review this well.

Alex Ha!

This was indeed a drunken - well, okay, slightly tipsy - review for me.

message 7: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken Tipsy reviews are really the only way to go when it comes to critiquing Dosty's work. The guy is night to Tolstoy's day, which is why I mostly sleep instead of working my way through his ouevre (French for "pages upon insane pages of controlled hysteria").

Tamsen I'm not ashamed to say I only gave this two stars! :) Great review.

message 9: by Ka (new)

Ka A missed opportunity . . .
I just came across the Cliff's Notes on Karamazov on my [NEW BOOKSHELVES]. Having listened to you moan your way through this, I only wish I had remembered it was there.
No, I didn't use it in college! I never used any Cliff's Notes! Must've been Abby's.

Jenny Campbell For my review I'm just going to link to this review.

message 11: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason "Maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary." —Zosima?

Awesome review, Alex.

Cathy Calamas Struggled struggled through this book and eventually gave up. May have to come back to it at a less hectic time of my life. I found it depressing and confusing .

Ciara Mangino I have the literal exact same feeling about this book...
It took all my will power not to chuck it across the room at the end... Still brilliant, but glad I'm done.

message 14: by Alex (new) - rated it 3 stars

Alex Glad I'm not alone, Clara! Crime and Punishment is (a little) better.

David Spiteri I attempted this book 3 times. bought it 3 times and gave it away 3 times.
I loved Crime and Punishment and consider it one of my all time favorites but this one simply bewildered me.
I actually slogged doggedly with gritted teeth through it at the 3rd attempt and had the same heart felt reaction you have so artfully expressed.
i have just met someone who has read The Idiot and loved it.
I will not fall for that one anytime soon . . .,

message 16: by Katrina (new) - added it

Katrina Oh great I look forward to our group read now, 30 pages in 673 to go!

Samuel Frost I have to agree with you that the "energy behind it was more or less insane." I'm a huge fan of Fydor. But at many times in this novel, I was truly worried that the old genius was losing his marbles. I couldn't review it better. 4 confused, browbeaten stars from me as well.

message 18: by Indran (new)

Indran Fernando hahahah

Wwmrsweasleydo I'm reading it now, just finished Book 3. Please give me hope to continue. Does it get any less boring from here onwards? I could so have done without any Zosima at all. I'm glad he's dead (& stinky) at least.

message 20: by Alex (new) - rated it 3 stars


at least Zosima is dead though

Wwmrsweasleydo I'll keep on slogging through, then! Thanks for your honesty x

message 22: by Mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mark Andre' Don't forget Smerdyakov he is a brother too! Same father.

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