Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
3427339
's review
May 22, 15

bookshelves: the-russians
Read from November 12 to 27, 2011

Photobucket

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.

Photobucket
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

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.

Photobucket

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.

If you wish to see all my most recent book and movie reviews check out http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
167 likes · Likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Brothers Karamazov.
Sign In »

Comments (showing 1-50 of 56) (56 new)


Daniel I love this book. I'm hoping to re-read it some day, soon.


Jeffrey Keeten I decided to take this book on a plane ride to San Francisco. Usually I go for lighter fare, so I thought I was a little nuts taking this. The translation must be excellent because I blew through the first 300 pages. It turned out to be an excellent plane/airport book.


Daniel I can see that: it's a great book in which to lose yourself.


message 4: by Sean (new) - added it

Sean I will have to give this a try as many people say this is better than Crime and Punishment. I have to say I had a hard time getting through that one.


Jeffrey Keeten Sean wrote: "I will have to give this a try as many people say this is better than Crime and Punishment. I have to say I had a hard time getting through that one."

I think as long as you stick with the new translations you'll be fine. I'm planning to reread Crime and Punishment by these same translators.


message 6: by Kemper (new)

Kemper Did you just work Farscape's 'frilling' into a Dostoyevsky review? I salute you...


Jeffrey Keeten Kemper wrote: "Did you just work Farscape's 'frilling' into a Dostoyevsky review? I salute you..."

Guilty as charged. I loved that show.


Kalliope On the translators (Volokonskhy and Pevear) there is an excellent article in The New Yorker:

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005...


message 9: by knig (new)

knig I frilling loved that show too. And your review, appropos of which Vanky, or Vanka or Vanuska is always an Ivan. Reading your review I've got this thought: the illegitimate son Smerdyakov: translates as 'stinker', 'stinky', e.g. could mean 'something fishy', etc. So, is Dostoyevski having a little joke?


Jeffrey Keeten Kalliope wrote: "On the translators (Volokonskhy and Pevear) there is an excellent article in The New Yorker:

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005..."


Wow what an incredible article. Thank you Kalliope. I wish I had read it before I wrote this review, but I will keep it in my holster for the next P&V translation I read.


Jeffrey Keeten Knig-o-lass wrote: "I frilling loved that show too. And your review, appropos of which Vanky, or Vanka or Vanuska is always an Ivan. Reading your review I've got this thought: the illegitimate son Smerdyakov: translat..."

Haha I think you are definitely hitting the nail on the head with that one Knig. Smerdyakov was a stinker.

Farscape had a great run. Someday, some summer over a series of lunches I should rewatch it from the beginning.

Next Russian novel for me is Dead Souls.


message 12: by Kalliope (last edited May 22, 2012 08:14AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kalliope Jeffrey wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "On the translators (Volokonskhy and Pevear) there is an excellent article in The New Yorker:

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005..."

Wow ..."


When I was growing up my father used to tell me that I had to read the Russians in French translation, since there was no reliable Russian translator in Spain at that time, while there was a strong Russian community in France. This I did until I read this article in The New Yorker. Now I am slowly getting their versions of the Russian classics.


Jeffrey Keeten Kalliope wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "On the translators (Volokonskhy and Pevear) there is an excellent article in The New Yorker:

http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005......"


P&V have reinvigorated me in regards to Russian Literature. I am jealous that you had a father that reads, neither one of my parents are readers or educated past high school. I would bet your father was a good mentor for your reading selections.


René If you enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov, I can only recommend that you do not see the 1958 film of the same name. I did so, and today I cannot recall the character of Alexei without seeing William Shatner's face shouting "we...can't...leave...without Dimitri!" Also, impossible to remember Mitya without Yul Brynner's face popping into mind.


Jeffrey Keeten René wrote: "If you enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov, I can only recommend that you do not see the 1958 film of the same name. I did so, and today I cannot recall the character of Alexei without seeing William Sh..."

Thank you for the warning René. They just had to cast Shatner, of all the actors in all the delis and coffee shops of L.A., they had to go get Captain Kirk. Sad, really sad.


Steve Sckenda Jeffrey, I can only speculate that gallons and gallons of good vodka must be in play to achieve this review and the courage it would require to take on the challenge of reviewing one of these masterpiece monster.


message 17: by Jeffrey (last edited May 22, 2012 01:12PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Jeffrey, I can only speculate that gallons and gallons of good vodka must be in play to achieve this review and the courage it would require to take on the challenge of reviewing one of these maste..."

I am fortunate to have goodreads friends who indulge my paltry attempts to express my thoughts regarding such an iconic Russian book. For the sake of research I did drink vodka in the course of reading the book and writing the review. My "sacrifice" for the goodreads community was I'm afraid, a failure, as I did not at any time "feel" (more of a numbness) Russian enough to do this book justice.


Steve Sckenda Jeffrey wrote: "Steve wrote: "Jeffrey, I can only speculate that gallons and gallons of good vodka must be in play to achieve this review and the courage it would require to take on the challenge of reviewing one ..."

Hey, Jeffrey, forget the girl from years ago, which brother do you think you most resemble?


B0nnie I have to disagree with René - the 1958 movie is excellent. Especially this scene with Grushenka and Katerina,
"Grushenka meanwhile seemed enthusiastic over the "sweet hand." She raised it deliberately to her lips. But she held it for two or three minutes near her lips, as though reconsidering something.
"Do you know, angel lady," she suddenly drawled in an even more soft and sugary voice, "do you know, after all, I think I won't kiss your hand?" And she laughed a little merry laugh."


René There's a pretty little Russian folk song in the middle of it that plays at a point when Mitya is in a bar with Grushenka. I never found the name of that ditty.


message 21: by Mark (new)

Mark This is one of those books that I have lying seductively on my to read shelf but its very complexity which is the thing that fascinates me is also the very thing that makes me sheer away


René I have a confession to make.

I read it, except for the passage toward the middle of the book when someone asks Yvan if he believes in God. Yvan then launches into a lengthy monologue right there and then. I flipped pages until the end of the monologue, and 11 pages later I resumed reading.

No, I didn't care if Yvan believed in God or not.

Yes, I realize that Yvan's monologue may have been the crux of the novel.

I was young. Still am, in fact.


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Steve wrote: "Jeffrey, I can only speculate that gallons and gallons of good vodka must be in play to achieve this review and the courage it would require to take on the challenge o..."

Alyosha, the monk brother. I know that is going to sound odd, but personality wise I think I fit that role the best. I would bet that the girl thought I was that brother as well since she told me once she had a dream in which I had a golden pie plate behind my head. I may have been caught in a Life of Brian situation.


Jeffrey Keeten Mark wrote: "This is one of those books that I have lying seductively on my to read shelf but its very complexity which is the thing that fascinates me is also the very thing that makes me sheer away"

The P&V translation was rather painless. I was overdue to get back to the Russians so the timing was right too.


Steve Sckenda Jeffrey wrote: "Steve wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "Steve wrote: "Jeffrey, I can only speculate that gallons and gallons of good vodka must be in play to achieve this review and the courage it would require to take on t..."

Me too, although I am not above acting the occasional Dimitri. My wife's family would think me Ivan (if they had actually ever heard of BK)-- overly secular and analytical-- but I do enjoy hamming it up for their benefit. Probably much like your Thanksgiving with pop-in-law.


Jeffrey Keeten René wrote: "I have a confession to make.

I read it, except for the passage toward the middle of the book when someone asks Yvan if he believes in God. Yvan then launches into a lengthy monologue right there a..."


11 pages short...that is like being one credit short of graduating. haha If I were a priest I'd absolve you.


message 27: by Gary (new) - added it

Gary This book sits on my shelf, unread, at this point..... Guess I need to get busy, eh?


Jeffrey Keeten Gary wrote: "This book sits on my shelf, unread, at this point..... Guess I need to get busy, eh?"

Another Russian writer that I just read that was surprisingly good is a descendant of Tolstoy. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


Jeffrey Keeten Moonbutterfly wrote: "Excellent review Jeff. I'm tackling this for the first time and using the same edition."

Thank you Moonbutterfly! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Leonard This is a great review.


Jeffrey Keeten Leonard wrote: "This is a great review."

Thanks Leonard. It was fun to write.


message 32: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Curcione Awesome review Jeffery. You have inspired me to reread this book I read many years ago, and loved by the way. Oh, I too love Farscape.

One question- who would you cast as the leading 6 people if you were making a movie of this book?
Dad
3 brothers
Grushenka
Katrina


Jeffrey Keeten Paul wrote: "Awesome review Jeffery. You have inspired me to reread this book I read many years ago, and loved by the way. Oh, I too love Farscape.

One question- who would you cast as the leading 6 people if ..."


Thanks Paul! Farscape was a hidden gem that few seem to have experienced. Let me get back to you on the casting that will take some thought.


Jeremy How could you not cast Malkovich as Ivan Karamazov, considering his oeuvre, and after seeing this mock-up picture imagining him as Ivan (which sent me on wild goose chase for a film that doesn't exist...)

description


Jeffrey Keeten Jeremy wrote: "How could you not cast Malkovich as Ivan Karamazov, considering his oeuvre, and after seeing this mock-up picture imagining him as Ivan (which sent me on wild goose chase for a film that doesn't ex..."

PERFECT! I totally agree.


Mustafa Hey. You're not crazy at all. I took War and Peace on a flight one time. And Don Quixote on another. And Vanity Fair on another. And so on and so forth.


Dasha wow, good review, my gud syr.


message 38: by Benjamin (new)

Benjamin Dancer This was one of my college favorites. Thank you for bringing me back there. Father Zosima. Wow! I haven't thought about him in years. I was consumed with him for awhile.


message 39: by Ivonne (new)

Ivonne Rovira Thanks for bringing this book back to my attention. I read Crime and Punishment in high school, but nothing else by Dostoyevsky (save "The Grand Inquisitor" bit from this novel). The novel is nothing like I thought it was.


message 40: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue I've had this book on hold for over a year, never having a chance to return to it. And I was half way through too. Not sure I want to begin again so I may simply pick up where I left off and see if it will work. Thanks for this great review.


message 41: by John (new) - rated it 3 stars

John Kitcher Great review. Thanks for including information about the translators...i'll definitely bear that in mind in the future.


Jeffrey Keeten Mustafa wrote: "Hey. You're not crazy at all. I took War and Peace on a flight one time. And Don Quixote on another. And Vanity Fair on another. And so on and so forth."

I'm starting to believe big books are best for flights. I recently read most of Great Expectations on a flight to Alabama.


Jeffrey Keeten Dasha wrote: "wow, good review, my gud syr."

Thanks Dasha!


Jeffrey Keeten Benjamin wrote: "This was one of my college favorites. Thank you for bringing me back there. Father Zosima. Wow! I haven't thought about him in years. I was consumed with him for awhile."

I could see that. All the characters leave lasting impressions. They creep into my thoughts frequently.


Jeffrey Keeten Ivonne wrote: "Thanks for bringing this book back to my attention. I read Crime and Punishment in high school, but nothing else by Dostoyevsky (save "The Grand Inquisitor" bit from this novel). The novel is nothi..."

This is a fantastic book Ivonne. I hope you get a chance to read it.


Jeffrey Keeten Sue wrote: "I've had this book on hold for over a year, never having a chance to return to it. And I was half way through too. Not sure I want to begin again so I may simply pick up where I left off and see if..."

Sometimes a book isn't right for the moment. I hope that moment has come for you Sue. This book has had a profound impact on me. Thanks Sue!


Jeffrey Keeten John wrote: "Great review. Thanks for including information about the translators...i'll definitely bear that in mind in the future."

You are most welcome John. Thank you!


Cheryl My edition was 700 pages and it felt like 500. Interesting take--the recklessness of Fyodor being the basis of the plot. Great review. I loved reading and hearing about your challenge with the names of characters because I had the same issue. After reading this, I now think I will start to look at people, like the woman you mentioned, and see one of those brothers in them.


Jeffrey Keeten Cheryl wrote: "My edition was 700 pages and it felt like 500. Interesting take--the recklessness of Fyodor being the basis of the plot. Great review. I loved reading and hearing about your challenge with the name..."

Thanks Cheryl! Yes the book reads like a much shorter book. It was actually a pleasure to read. To be trapped with Dostoyevsky on a plane turned out to be perfect planning for me. All people we meet can be found in the characters of this novel. I think it is a cool idea to start looking at people in relation to the people that populate this novel.


message 50: by Benjamin (new)

Benjamin Dancer Jeffrey wrote: "Benjamin wrote: "This was one of my college favorites. Thank you for bringing me back there. Father Zosima. Wow! I haven't thought about him in years. I was consumed with him for awhile."

I could ..."


Yes. When I was younger, I bought a bottle of vodka to be like the characters in this book. It didn't turn out so well for me. Maybe there are better means of handling sorrow...Lesson learned.


« previous 1
back to top