The Brothers Karamazov

August 30, 2008

I thought I’d try and get at least ONE post in here during the month of August…

I recently completed my first Dostoevsky novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Having finished War and Peace only a couple of months ago, another long, involved Russian novel seemed risky. Dostoevsky is nowhere as “easy” to read as Tolstoy. Karamazov involves lengthy discussions of religion and philosophy. The impatient, instant gratification American in me wished some of these had been edited out. But then it certainly would not have remained true to Dostoevsky’s vision.

Like War and Peace, Karamazov deals with complex themes. And what could have been a simple murder story turns into something far deeper in Dostoevsky’s hands. Thankfully, the Russian patrinomics were easier this time around. Perhaps I’m just getting used to reading Russian literature.

For me, the novel can be summed up in the Devil’s lecture to Ivan (in his dream):

    Precisely because we are of a broad, Karamazovian nature–and this is what I am driving at–capable of containing all possible opposites and of contemplating both abysses at once, the abyss above us, an abyss of lofty ideals, and the abyss beneath us, an abyss of the lowest and foulest degredation… Two abysses, two abysses, gentlemen, in one and the same moment–without that we are wretched and dissatisfied, our existence is incomplete.

The Brothers Karamazov was, for me, a difficult read. It’s not the kind of novel that encouraged me to keep reading, breathless to see what happened next. However, it certainly needs no endorsement from me as to its place in classic world literature.