Dostoevsky, or Three Things to Love About The Brothers Karamazov

Blogger’s Note: Three long summers (and three even longer winters) ago, I agreed to my friend Jacqui’s challenge to read 15 Classics in 15 Weeks. I have since read 10 of 15, this being my tenth from the list. The last one, Homer’s The Odyssey took 11 months, not because it was overly long or monotonous, but because it required a level of mental engagement I couldn’t always give it. The same is true for this one, which has taken me more than a year…

I literally just finished The Brothers Karamazov and logged into this blog with a tear in my eye. It has not managed to displace Steinbeck’s East of Eden as perhaps my favorite book ever (thus far) — but I imagine it will prove to be a 936-page seed that will germinate, slowly grow, and bear fruit years from now. It will stick with me, I have no doubt. Without further ado, Three Things to Love about The Brothers Karamazov:

  • Absurd As Us. Many, and perhaps most, of the characters seem absurd, even over-the-top. Chances are you’ve never been in a town such as this, with people such as these. You know no one like the Karamazov clan or their diverse friends and lovers — and yet, each rings true, and we recognize ourselves, our friends, and our families in the peculiarities we find here.
  • Fatherhood and Brotherhood. What does it mean to be a father? A brother? A friend? What would you endure for fools who share your surname, whom you can abuse but no one else can touch — what loyalties do we bear to our fathers, sons, and brothers? Though you might guess that this is a theme from the title, these ideas emerge slowly and subtly from the plot, since the Karamazov men’s family ties are, uh, looser than most…
  • Religion and Culture. Dostoevsky does not shy away from religion and philosophy, permitting his characters to speak at length (and in character, so not always clearly) about the existence of God, morality, humanity, science, psychology, justice, the state, and more. I was struck by how a book written circa 1880 could have so much to say about our world in 2011.

You might ask, would I recommend it? I might reply: in general, or to you, specifically? I don’t know how to answer, so for now, I will say that I enjoyed it very much, and that it rewards persistence. It is a great book.

I have another, contemporary novel to knock out before I proceed, but it should be a quicker read. Next on this long-running (and long-overdue) challenge will be a book not on my original list of 15, but one recommended by my good friend Fr. Tyler at Prairie Father: Brideshead Revisited. Fr. Tyler, incidentally, recently wrote this wonderful review of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

2 thoughts on “Dostoevsky, or Three Things to Love About The Brothers Karamazov

  1. This has been sitting on my shelf tempting me for years. Now it is calling me again…

    Again, let me say how impressed by your persistence. And your mental energy.


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