Esdaile's Reviews > The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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Nov 16, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: i-own-it, russian, politically-committed, my-50-favourite-novels
Read in January, 1976

I think I have read this three times and I suppose if I had to name the greatest novel of all time, this would be the one that I would name. D's genius lies I think the ability to write a "potboiler" and classic at the same time. There is so much that can be said and probably has been said in Goodreads (I am not going to click through all the reviews) that I shall restrict myself to a few comments on the three English translations I have read-there are at least three English translations available. The Penguin classics version was by a Latvian for whom English was not a first language and who admitted in the preface to hostility towards Dostoyevsky's poltiics (which he advises us to ignore) and a distrust of Russians in general. The old 1920's Constant Garnett translation is full of very dated English expressions which give an inappropriate, dsitracting sort of PG Wodehouse colour to the tale, with the result that the atmosphere of the tale is a sort of pseudo-English gentry. The American translation (I think by MacDonald?) is very flawed too, with some Americanism (eg "you great Turkey!") which jar, but the Amwerican version has the great merit of bringing out the humour of the book, which the other translations seem to miss or play down. A significant part of "The Brothers Karamazov" is intentionally humorous, something readers of the other English translations are likely to miss.
The novel itsself-where does one even begin? The book is a drama of the human soul, if that doesn't sound too pretentious. It is drama and exploration of three, no four, aspects of the writer's own personality, goodness and sinfulness as portrayed in four brothers. This is a crime and murder story, a love story, a parable a Christian tract, an exhortation and dramatic and at times hilarious account of the extravagence of the Russian property owning classes at the end of the century. It is enthused with a deep sense of Russia's supposed destiny as the Third Rome, a destiny which turned into gall and wormwood in the subsequent century. I think it should be on every bibliophile's first 100 books to read list.
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