If you like your books to move in a linear fashion this book is not for you. It hops around and attention must be paid or you will find yourself flipping back a few pages to reestablish the thread of the story. I took this on a plane flight, crazy right? Not exactly the normal "light" reading I take on flights. It was a stroke of genius. I absolutely fell under the thrall of Dostoyevky's prose. (Thank you to my fellow travelers who didn't feel the need to chat with the guy who obviously is so frilling bored he has resorted to reading a Russian novel.) I zipped through three hundred pages like it was butter and found myself absolutely captivated by the evolving drama of the Brothers Karamazov, the women that drive them crazy, and the father that brings to mind the words justifiable homicide.
I have to give a plug to these Everyman's Library editions. A 776 page novel that feels like a 300 page novel. Despite the smaller size, the print size is still easily readable. I will certainly be picking up more of these editions especially the Russian novels that are translated by the magical duo of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
Translators Volokhonsky and Pevear
One of my complaints, when I was in college, and liked to torture myself with the largest most incomprehensible Russian books I could find, was that the nicknames and diminutives of various Russian names increased my frustration level and decreased my ability to comprehend the plots. I certainly spent too much time scratching my head and reading feverishly to see if I could figure out from the interactions of the characters if Vanky was actually Ivan or Boris or Uncle Vashy. I did not have that issue with this book. Despite a plot that skipped around I did not experience the confusion that has marred my memories of other Russian novels.
This is the story of the Karamazov family. The father Fyodor and his four sons. There are three legitimate sons Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha, but I believe that Smerdyakov is also an illegitimate son, though not confirmed by the author given the tendencies of Fyodor to hop on anything in a skirt I would say chances are pretty good that the boy is a Karamazov.
The recklessness at which Fyodor lived his life is really the basis of the plot. The motivations of the other characters all revolve around reactions to the careless and insensitive behavior of the father. Dostoyevsky wrote a description of Fyodor that still gives me a shiver every time I read it.
"Fyodor's physiognomy by that time presented something that testified acutely to the characteristics and essence of his whole life. Besides the long, fleshy bags under his eternally insolent, suspicious, and leering little eyes, besides the multitude of deep wrinkles on his fat little face, a big Adam's apple, fleshy and oblong like a purse, hung below his sharp chin, giving him a sort of repulsively sensual appearance. Add to that a long, carnivorous mouth with plump lips, behind which could be seen the little stumps of black, almost decayed teeth. He sprayed saliva whenever he spoke."
Fyodor is a skirt chaser and since he is rich he can afford to throw these opulent parties that evolve/devolve into orgies with the local women. Given the description above I can only speculate that gallons and gallons of good vodka must be in play to achieve this end. Problems mount as he falls in love/lust with a young beauty of dubious morals named Grushenka.
His oldest son Dmitri is also in love with this young woman and as they both vie for her hand the tension between the Karamazov's ratchets up to dangerous levels. Dmitri while pursuing this dangerous siren throws over Katerina, a girl that he owes 3,000 rubles. After Fyodor is murdered (It was similar to waiting around for someone to kill J.R.)those same rubles become central to the subsequent trial to convict Dmitri of the murder. The murderer is revealed to the reader and as the trial advances the tension increases as we begin to wonder just how the truth will be revealed.
There are subplots with Father Zosima and his life before becoming a monk. Alyosha, the youngest son, was studying to be a monk under Zosima's tutelage, but becomes embroiled in the power struggles of the family and leaves the monastery to seek a life in the real world. Alyosha also becomes involved with the care of a dying child named, Ilyusha who is in the book to illustrate the heavy burden that the seemingly inconsequential actions of people can leave on others. The book explores that theme extensively.
It was fascinating to watch the ripple effects of each character's actions as the chapters advance. Every time I picked this book up I had to read large chunks because it simply would not let me go. The reactions and high drama created by the smallest spark of contention in the characters kept the pages turning and as new information snapped into place I found my pulse quickening as my brain sprang ahead trying to guess where Dostoyevsky was taking me next.
I worked with a young woman years ago that said that I reminded her of one of the Karamazov brothers. Because of the diverse personalities of the brothers, and the fact that I can see a little of myself in each brother I'm still left with the grand mystery as to which brother she was referring too. It serves me right for waiting so long to read this beautiful book.
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