Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Posted 4 November, 2010 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 23 Comments

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Title: Brothers Karamazov
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky
Published: 1880 Pages: 776
Genre: Literature, Classic, Russian
Rating: 2.5/5

Brothers Karamazov is the story of three brothers, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexi.  And a couple of girls.  And a lusty, drunkard father.  A murder mystery and a whole lot of religious babble.

Reason I read it: Someone somewhere sometime said Brothers Karamazov is a must read book. I don’t remember who, but if I ever do remember…! So I suggested a readalong and Jill kindly took the reins and though many signed up, only Jill, Jenners, and I prevailed. I will take full blame and responsibility for the disaster that was the Brothers Karamazov Cedilh.

Thoughts:  I’m afraid that I didn’t really understand Brothers Karamazov, which was a great source of my frustration throughout my reading experience. I tried. I tried and tried, but I just didn’t get it. The majority of the book was heavily entrenched in religious themes—mainly through the discussions and dreams of Aloysha and Ivan—but they disagreed with one another and I had a tough time discerning what Dostoevsky was trying to tell us about heaven and hell and God and the Devil and what makes a man a sinner and can a man really achieve redemption, etc etc. I do have to say that reading this book made me want to learn more about Dostoevsky’s life and philosophies, but I’m kind of a lazy reader.

Brothers Karamazov is a book that is probably best read in a literature course with a professor that requires the students read secondary sources and research Dostoevsky’s life and beliefs, but most importantly a professor who could facilitate the type discussion that would tease out some of the tricky themes to get to the meat. I never got to the meat. I don’t even think I tasted the spices on the meat. Sometimes I couldn’t even smell said meat or spices. I started off using Sparknotes but quickly abandoned them when I realized the story I was reading was a lot different than the one I was reading about in Sparknotes! Like any book, a reader will choose to focus on certain things over others [or in my case, I needed way better glasses to focus].

Religion aside, this book was a fairly simple one. Which is the biggest understatement I’ve ever made in my entire life. But what I mean by that is when you strip away all of the religion and philosophizing, this book is a murder mystery complete with a trial by jury and sentencing. Throw in a bit of love/lust and family drama and you have the makings of a very basic story. Which is why this book is probably a classic (though I’m sure Dostoevsky’s ramblings has something to do with it as well). The crux of the story, it turns out, is what makes a good father and if it’s worse to murder your father than a regular joe shmo. Fyodor Karamazov was a really lousy father, but does that make it any more OK to murder him? As I typed that sentence I realized how insane it sounded, but that’s what Dostoevsky discusses!

In terms of writing—I never know how to go about discussing writing in a book that is translated. I read the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of the book, which I’ve heard is supposed to be very good, but I wonder what my experience would have been like if I read another translation. Better? Or, gasp, worse? Two things, though, that transcend translation are humor and conversation. And surprisingly there was quite a bit of both of these things in Brothers Karamazov. Sure a lot of times it was lost amongst the philosophizing, but it still there regardless. I would have preferred to do a lot more laughing than sighing or eyerolling, but the parts where there was dialogue were almost enjoyable to me. Honestly, I don’t know what else to talk about in this post and mostly I just want to get it finished with…so…

Bottom line: Proceed with extreme caution. I’m sure for more intelligent readers this is an enlightening read. For me…unfortunately it wasn’t worth the time and effort. But, you want to hear something really sick? This one’s going back on the shelf for another day when I might just understand it better. Ha!

Have you ever shelved a book you kind of disliked because you think/hope you might like it better the next time you pick it up?

If you’re really curious, my thoughts on:
Brothers Karamazov Part I
Brothers Karamazov Part II
Brothers Karamazov Part III

23 Responses to “Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky”

  1. Whew…glad it wasn’t me who recommended it. ;)

    Pretty darn sure I’ll never even attempt this one, as it undoubtedly is above my head. But I can say with certainty, that I will always think of you when I see a copy of this book! :D

  2. This is good to know. For some reason we are always inspired/challenged/pressured to read the “classics”. Almost always we are pleasantly surprised, but we’ll have to keep this one near the bottom of our “must read” list. Also, Pevear and Volokhonsky did a great job with War and Peace so I’d be even more nervous to try a different translation…

  3. You already know I’m going to avoid this book like the plague! I doubt I could understand it at all outside a classroom where I’m being told exactly what to learn.

    There are some books I read years ago that I really hated and I’ve considered picking them to see if that will change with age. I’m not sure if there have been ones I didn’t understand that I’d like to do the same for, because usually I try to read some critique or analysis afterwards and then feel like I understand it a bit (the lazy way to get out of rereading, I guess?).

  4. Amy

    Yikes. I will avoid. Not that I needed this post to confirm that for me, but you know :) Congrats on finishing though!

  5. I think I’ll pass on this book. If you couldn’t understand it, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t. Good for you for finishing it even though it was rough!

  6. I didn’t understand this book either, which is why I stopped reading after about 60 pages…which was 60 pages more than I should have read. LOL I must give you credit for reading it anyway!

  7. Hmmm … I haven’t read this one yet, but plan to someday. I read The Idiot in a Russian Lit class. I kind of wonder if I would have liked it as much without the class discussions? Wondering about the setting in which you read a book like this is a really good question!

  8. Really??? You might subject yourself to this again?!
    How about Crime & Punishment instead? I might even join you ;-)

  9. *Bermuda – The unfortunate thing is I don’t think this book needed to be so dense! It must be a Russian thing. ;)

    *Debi – Someone did, I’m sure of it! Just don’t remember who. And is that a good thing that you’ll think of me when seeing this one! Ha!

    *TwoBibliomaniacs – The Pevear and Volokhonsky is supposed to be the preferred translation, so I don’t know what else to try. But yes, I’ve heard that even though War and Peace is longer it is much more entertaining than this one.

    *Amanda – If only I could warn my 5 month-ago self! ;) I think with difficult books time and maturity makes them easier than when you’re younger? But maybe not always. It will be years before I pick this one up…if ever. :P

    *Amy – Thanks on the congrats. And yes, I’m still searching hard for a person who enjoyed this one!

    *Kristi – If it hadn’t been for the readalong I’d have ditched this one long time ago. Oh well. It’s too bad it’s so inaccessible!

    *Anna/Eccentric – Ya, I think you have a pretty good idea of how the book’s going to go with the first 60 pages. It’s a tough one, huh?

    *Lisa – But the library copy doesn’t have all my notes and underlining! ;)

    *Jill – LOL! Rancid meat is right! Thanks for putting up with me and this dang readalong.

    *Terri B. – You know, I would love to have read this in a class. Or taken a Russian Literature class. Seems those who did have a much better appreciation. And I do think it makes a difference whether you read by yourself or with a class! I appreciate books so much more when I read them for class.

    *Vivienne – Haha! You’re not missing a whole lot. I think I was a lot nicer than Jill and Jenners!

    *JoAnn – Oh goodness. I do think I have a copy of Crime and Punishment but I think I should ditch it for a newer copy. Didn’t we discuss War & Peace? ;)

  10. If anyone is looking for a good theoretical book that helps explain Dostoevsky’s writing I definitely recommend Narrative and Freedom by Gary Saul Morson. Dostoevsky is TOUGH, it definitely helps to read some stuff to explain what’s going on! Thanks for the review Trish :)

  11. One thing that I find helps is downloading from LibriVox. I am currently doing this with Emma and find it really helpful, as I haven’t read the book in a number of years. Depending on your addition, the notes in the back or the introduction can help gain a greater understanding of where the author is coming from in a particular book. I understand you are very busy with life, but sometimes finding a discussion group for a particular book may also help.

  12. Congrats on making it all the way through! Reading the posts from the three of you that finished made me happy I wasn’t participating. It sounds like someone could filter out Dostoevsky’s ramblings and publish it as a decent novel :-)

    I still have my copy of The Sound and the Fury from college. I kept it partly as a sort of badge of honor, but also partly because I might want to take it on again later!

  13. Way to go for finishing this beast! I’m sad it wasn’t amazing, and I think there is a pretty good chance I will never read it, though I have wanted to for quite some time!

  14. *IngridLola – Thank you so much for the suggestion for Narrative and Freedom! Sometimes a little “extra” reading goes a long way!

    *Stephanie – Well, not much to remember about this one other than there was a murder and then a trial. LOL! Which other Russian books have you read and enjoyed??

    *Melissa – I was really tempted to download this one from LibriVox but there were different narrators and I wasn’t sure how that would go. But I agree that sometimes listening can make a big difference!

    *Erin – Yes, you’re right–this one could be a great novel. But I guess it just depends on what the author is going for–guess old Dosty was going more for theoretical than novel. ;) I LOVED The Sound and the Fury, but I’m convinced that it’s one of those you must read in a class setting–no way I would have gotten it otherwise.

    *Laura – Is there an abridged version? :) I’m not going to lie–it was terrible. Les Miserables was leaps and bounds better!!

  15. I’d love to read this one day but I’m afraid of it. It’s on my shelf. It’s so huge.

    I had to laugh when you mentioned Sparknotes! I actually go to places like that even when I’m sure I ‘got’ something and then I realize, hey, wait a minute, when the hell did that character do that? Wait, that scene was an allegory for….yeah.

    Congratulations on finishing a book you felt you missed the “meat” of!

  16. Given your reaction and Jill’s, I’ve got to say that I’m glad I didn’t try to work this one into my schedule! If nothing else, it did get you thinking!

  17. Sorry for the late response guys!

    *Melody – If you made these guys right now, you could have them! ;) Too bad it isn’t feasible to mail them across the world to you—or I would!

    *Beth F – Aren’t the Hersey hugs a nice difference? Though regular kisses are good too—of course.

    *Rose City Reader – Isn’t fall the perfect time to bake? Especially when the house is a little chilly and the oven can warm the room?

    *TopherGL – I do not recommend cookies as a substitute for food. Especially for grad students. Tummy ache… :P

    *Mary – My family is half and half on the peanut butter—some just don’t like them (which I cannot understand!).

    *Jenny Girl -Oh no! You have to watch these in the oven—take them out even when they still look a bit doughy. Otherwise they’ll get hard. Sorry your batch burned on you. Hate that!

    *Meg – Guess these will be on your Christmas baking list this year, huh? I also like the peanut butter cookies with a Reeses in the center—have you had those? Mmmmm!

    *Bellezza – Is Daniel still at home? If not, make a batch and immediately send them off to him. Out of sight, out of mind. Plus, he’ll love them—I loved when my mom sent me cookies in the mail (surprising how they keep!).