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The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Title: The Brothers Karamazov

Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

No. of Pages: 880

First Released: 1879-1880

Synopsis (Courtesy of B&N): This turbulent story centers on the murder of Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov, a corrupt, loutish landowner, and the aftermath for his sons: the passionate Dmitri, the coldly intellectual Ivan, the spiritual Alexey, and the bastard Smerdyakov.”

Comments and Critiques: Please forgive me a few minutes of gloating over my success at having finished this book.  It’s been like a millstone around my neck for years now, as I’ve picked up and put down this book three times now before I finally made it through to the end of the book.  It was the only book I have ever put down unfinished because I found it too difficult to continue.  So, I type this feeling very proud that I finally, finally finished the book.

I must say that this book is nothing like I initially thought it was based on the first 300 pages (my stopping point).  What first appears as a religious tome in which the characters intone religious doctrine after doctrine, it turns into quite the murder mystery.  Rather than theological in nature, the book fosters a debate on the idea of nature versus nurture in forming personalities. Like Crime and Punishment (one of my favorite books), he also explores the idea of sacrifice.

To be sure, one of the most difficult issues to overcome as a reader is the incessant dramatics and theatrics each character uses.  The dialogue is unrealistic, as are some of the characters.  Several of my fellow book club members felt that each character represented a caricature rather than actual humans because “no one they know would ever talk this way”.  I personally think this is characteristic of Russian literature in general, so it’s not as off-putting as it may be for others. 

Once I got past the philosophical diatribe, I really enjoyed this book.  It was slow reading but worth every page.  After each chapter, I was left with more food for thought, so much so that I could not put away the book after I put it down.  Even as I write this, more questions come to mind about the fate of the characters. 

This book has been touted as Dostoyevsky’s crowning achievement.  While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky gives his audience much to think about.  In fact, I suspect that someone, if it hasn’t already been done, could write a dissertation on the psychology of this book.  While someone in present-day U.S. might not be able to relate to the Russian peasant, at the heart of the book is human interactions, greed, love, and family relationships.  These are themes which never grow old and are key to the longevity of the book.  Like a good relationship, this book is challenging but worth the struggle in the end.  I would recommend this book to anyone who likes Russian literature or enjoys stories that discuss the psychology of relationships.

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