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The Karamazov problem

  • Aug 27, 2012

Early on in this wandering Russian sprawl of a novel, a family acquaintance and later antagonist boils down the "Karamazov problem" to "sensualists, money-grubbers, and saintly fools!"  For us modern American readers of an English translation, the Karamazov problem might be more succinctly stated as the lack of succinctness.   Dostoyevsky writes on and on and on, in the Penguin Classics paperback I read 900+ densely packed pages of pages-long paragraphs that try our eyes and attention.

The three brothers by two different mothers, both now dead, are united in dislike and even hatred to a hard-nosed, unlovable, perverted father, who withholds promised estates from his sons, particularly the oldest, an omission made even more galling by his plan to hand that son's portion over to the father's young paramour--who also happens to be the son's!  When the father is murdered and the promised money missing, eldest son Dmitry is the obvious suspect, and he is arrested and convicted on circumstantial evidence.

Is he actually the guilty party?  Buried in the interminable meanderings about Russian philosophy, religion, and politics are actually a pretty standard and suspenseful murder mystery.  That portion of the story would by itself make a decent-sized  novel.  And while my eyes glazed over at some points, the meanderings at times are worthy of classic rating.  Indeed, the central theme of The Brothers is the existence of God and the Devil, good and evil, filtered through a Russian mindset that seeps through the English translation centuries and hemispheres away as a distant mirror on a world the modern American can see only in a glass darkly.  

While well-written and worth reading, The Brothers are not as accessible as, for example, Tolstoy's equally weighty "War and Peace."  But good and evil are universal.  At one point, as two of the brothers discuss the Devil--if he didn't exist man would have created him, and created him in man's own image!--Dostoyevsky follows with a catalog of suffering and horrors inflicted by men on children.  The conclusion:

I suppose men themselves are to blame, they were given paradise, they wanted freedom and they stole the fire from heaven, knowing perfectly well that they would become unhappy.

There are immensely powerful words on forgiveness or vengeance and its impossibility that made me literally gasp out loud as I read.  But those nuggets can be hard to glean through the flood of words poured out of Dostoyevsky's pen.  I can understand the reluctance of most to tackle The Brothers.  I almost gave up 100 pages in.  But paying the price of sticking with it rewards the reader with (well-earned) insights into the human condition that perhaps can't be found in any other writers words.

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September 04, 2012
Nice review! This was one of the best books I have ever read and I do put it above War and Peace. I guess it was lengthy but when I read it, that did not seem to matter. You do pull out some of the great lessons of the book (Man creating the devil). As it has been quite a number of years since I read this, I thank you so much for refreshing my mind about it.
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Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
A very difficult read, but truly intriguing. Many psychological themes.
review by . June 24, 2009
"The Brothers Karamazov" nearly falls victim to its best chapter.      Not that it fails, by any stretch of the imagination; the novel is a true tour de force, 960 pages of literary excellence, a fascinating look at classic themes of anger, jealousy, debauchery, sin and redemption. It weaves together the story of four brothers (Dimitri, Ivan, Alyosha and Smerdyakov), their lovers, their father, and his murder. These characters and events make for a complex and fascinating story …
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Todd Stockslager ()
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I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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About this book


The final novel by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, and is generally considered the culmination of his life's work. Dostoyevsky spent nearly two years writing The Brothers Karamazov, which was published as a serial in The Russian Messenger and completed in November 1880. Dostoyevsky intended it to be the first part in an epic story titled The Life of a Great Sinner, but he died less than four months after its publication.

The book portrays a patricide in which each of the murdered man's sons share varying degrees of complicity. On a deeper level, it is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, reason, free will and modern Russia. Dostoyevsky composed much of the novel in Staraya Russa, which is also the main setting of the novel.

Since its publication, it has been acclaimed all over the world by thinkers as diverse as Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein as one of the supreme achievements in literature.

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ISBN-10: 0374528373
ISBN-13: 978-0374528379
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky
Genre: Novel
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Date Published: June 14, 2002
Format: paperback
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1984 (British first edition)

Collection of Classics


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