Ken's Reviews > The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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's review
Jul 06, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: classics-newly-read, finished-in-2009
Read in July, 2009

Whew! Talk about a gauntlet running! But what seemed like a huge mess of a book clearly had a structure and a design. I'm sure the religious symbolism is much greater than I noticed, but I did notice the preeminence of the number three -- three brothers, three chapters for each one in Part I, Book One,; "The Confessions of an Ardent Heart" in three parts in Part I, Book Three, "The Three Torments" in Part III, Book Nine; the three meetings with Smerdyakov (he of the devilish squinting LEFT eye) in Part IV, Book Eleven; and so forth. Dostoevsky wasn't subtle when it came to the Trinity.

The Ilyushenka funeral at the end was a bit sentimental for my tastes, but it gave Alexei a soapbox (in the form of a coffin) to stand on for his final sermon to the boys. It reminded somewhat of Tiny Tim ("God bless us, everyone!") and somewhat of Robin Williams rallying the boys in Dead Poets Society ("Carpe diem, boys, carpe diem!").

I also grew tired of the repeated retellings of the crime, especially when it came to the prosecutor's final speech. What fascinated me, however, was Ippolit's (prosecutor's) thoughts on present-day society in 19th-century Russia. People were too liberal, too God-less, he said. People lived vicariously, loved sensationalism and to feast their eyes and ears on other people's misery. People only carried about money and material goods and satisfaction of their own sensual needs. Hmn. Sounds damn near like speeches at the last Republican Convention. The times, they aren't a changin', I guess.

I'm always glad to fill a Swiss hole in my classical reading resume and summer is the time to do it. Last year it was Dead Souls, a book Dostoevsky admired, and this year it is The Brothers Karamazov. I enjoyed it. It ran the gamut, from near-Biblical raptures and serious philosophical and religious thoughts to the equivalent of a 19th-century Jerry Springer show (I'm sure Jerry would be salivating to sign the likes of Dmitri K. and his little strumpet, Grushenka).

A bit like after giving blood or having gone to church, finishing it. You know. That noble feeling. And you want to do GOOD, a la Alyoshka, after reading it. I think, then, I'll go to the freezer for a Good Humor bar. For starters, I mean!
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Quotes Ken Liked

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
tags: love

Reading Progress

07/06/2009 page 72
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Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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message 1: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Great to see. If you dislike it, you can blame it on me. If you like it, thank yourself for being open minded. See there, that's a no lose situation.


message 2: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken Read the first 70. Some laugh-out-loud moments with Daddy Fyodor and the kiddies in front of the elder. I mean, what comes out of Daddy K's mouth is anybody's guess -- and the reactions of his audience are terrific.

Of course you get the sometimes annoying Dostoevski habit of leaving the action so the elder can step outside and greet women pilgrims for 3 chapters before returning to the farce-in-progress, but that might as much be a function of the century as it is of the writer...

In any event, I won't blame you no matter what I ultimately feel. July's about the only month I can attack a book this big, so I'm going for it. Plus, I'm reading it as a comedy. The translator put me on to the humorous aspect, so I said, OK, I can do that.

message 3: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Awesome! And yes, Fyodor Karamazov is quite the character. So is Dmitri and his love interest Grushenka, both of whom you'll get to know very, very well.

message 4: by Ken (last edited Jul 06, 2009 05:52PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken Considering the page count, I have a feeling I'll know LOTS of Russkies very, very well. Luckily, I'm a Russophile with a lot of Russian Lit already in my otherwise B-Negative blood. Most important to me is the smoothness of the translation. Nothing stiff and false-sounding -- a typical problem with translations. And, judging by the notes (back of the book), Dosty knows his Bible! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (about the extent of my knowledge) but he's smart!

message 5: by Ken (last edited Jul 07, 2009 06:24PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken I used to read Russian novels in the winter because it better fits the mood. Now, thanks to the agrarian model of education, I tackle them in summer -- but the mood for the Bros. K has been perfect in Maine. Clouds. Rain. Cold. Today it started at 54 degrees, struggled up to 58, then faltered down to 52. For the third day this week, I've had to wear jeans and a sweatshirt and fire up the wood stove. All of this in the first week of July! Perhaps it's the Ghost of Dosty helping me out?

Anyway, by p. 145 the pieces are falling into place and the conflict is beginning to gel nicely. The boys are fleshed out (perfect term for "sensualists"!) and interacting. Still, if a character steps outside and sees a linden tree, Dosty might call time out and take a few chapters to give the history of the linden tree, its little family of leaves, buds, and bark, the root of all its troubles, and the prospects of rain before returning to his main plot. He just can't help himself.

Still waiting to meet Grushenka. She's getting the best build-up a character could ask for, I'll tell you. Can you spell femme fatale in Cyrillic? I didn't think so...

message 6: by Ken (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken Now on the doorsteop of the "Grand Inquisitor" chapter, which I think is the book's most famous. The one just before it (which I just read) called "Rebellion" is quite the rant against Christianity and God specifically, too. Amazing how similar Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were in their fascinations with religion and big, unanswerable questions: "Is there a God?", "Is there life after death?", and "Why?"

I like subtle things in a book. For instance this, from p. 223. Alexei has just climbed the wattle fence to try to catch is brother Dmitri unawares in the gazebo outside his house. Alexei sits in the gazebo waiting and thinks of dumb stuff like so:

"On the green table a circle was imprinted from yesterday's glass of cognac, which must have spilled over. Empty and profitless thoughts, as always during a tedious time of waiting, crept into his head: for example, why, as he had come in now, had he sat precisely in the very same place as the day before, and not in some other place? Finally he became very sad, sad from anxious uncertainty."

message 7: by Ben (last edited Jul 09, 2009 07:03PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben I also like the term "sensualists" as applied to Fyodor and Dmitri. They have a lot of similar qualities which is part of the reason they hate either other so much, I believe.

I love that whole conversation that you're in the middle of the reading right now: the one where Alyosha is speaking with Ivan in the bar.

I can't remember when they detail the death of Father Zossima (not a spoiler). Have you got to that part yet? Zossima is a remakable character.

Did you know that the character, Alyosha, was named after Dostoevsky's son that died at a young age? Alyosha is a unique hero, but certainly a hero, nonetheless.

I head to vacation tomorrow and won't be online for over a week, but I look forward to reading your thoughts upon my return.


message 8: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben So... more thoughts?

message 9: by Ken (last edited Jul 19, 2009 04:36PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ken It's moving faster now, what with the crime and the mystery of it (now solved, as I read the chapter where you know who admits you know what).

Struck by similarities between the passions of Dmitri and Alexei. Only the passions are directed in different directions. Still, there's a simplicity of heart at the root of both of their characters, unlike with #3 there.

The chapter called "The Devil" makes me wonder if it was the inspiration for The Master and Margarita which I've read twice. So similar in tone and style!

A cameo for Tolstoy! Dosty takes his shots at his enemies and supports his friends in this book. The Tolstoy aside was something about a minute detail "such as Leo Tolstoy would notice." Hmn. Telling, that.

The whole section on Ilyushka was like a fairy tale. Very different from the others, though I can sense how he'll be folding it in. Liked it a lot. Some expert psychological observations on the ways boys act and think (having taught for umpteen years, I've seen it at work myself).

I see you're reading the polar opposite of Dosty stylistically (Hemingway). "Senta, Rinaldi, Senta! You and me, we've made a separate peace!"

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