Brothers Karamazov

A couple of weeks ago I finished my journey through Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. While I have not the capabilities or desire to do a complete review of such an immense and breathtaking work, I will attempt to highlight a few of the aspects that have lingered with me since turning the final page.

What struck me the most with this novel (and with other Russian literature) is the intricate attention given to exploring the humanity and beliefs of the characters. Nearly every major character in the book is given lengths of time in which Dostoyevsky explores and navigates through the often conflicting and labyrinthine passages of each’s soul. While I am by no means even a novice in Russian philosophy and history, and I know much of this human exploration pulls very deeply from such, the human nature depicted by Dostoyevsky in The Brothers still impacted me very intimately here in modern America. The “everything is permitted” vantage points very intricately interwoven into Karamazovian nature (Fyodor, Dmitri, Ivan, even surfacing at times in Alexei) is the foundation for much of what occurs in the story’s plot, and in many ways is the real drama separating this from just another “who done it” mystery/trial novel. The real conflict is exposed as an internal battle within each of the characters rather than a mere external disagreement between father and son(s).

This battle of internal forces is what captivated me and held me to the progression of this story. Dostoyevsky heavily relies on dialog to convey the story and even when progressing in narrative he does so through dialog by means of an external narrator who maintains a personal (he’s a villager in the same town as the Karamazovs who experienced the story both first hand and through gathering details) conversational tone. This lead to very interesting exchanges, my favorite of which was Ivan’s conversation with a devil (which was also himself). I was transfixed to the unfolding conversation as Ivan wrestled with various expressions of himself (the base/depraved portion portrayed by the devil, and the loving/kind/truth fearing portion portrayed by himself) during his “dream.”

Dostoyevsky is adamant in his introduction that Alexei is the hero of his story, and maybe it was this prompting and maybe it was the progression of the novel, but I came to love Alexei very dearly by the end of the novel. His honesty, subtle wisdom, and brotherly affection were superbly woven by Dostoyevsky. It is very evident Dostoyevsky truly loves Alexei through his writing and his character serves as a true tribute to Dostoyevsky’s friend Vladimir Solovyov.

On another note, I also greatly appreciated the edition which I read – the translation was very fluid while apparently staying very close to the feel of the original Russian and contained an extensive and very helpful assortment of footnotes. One can gain an even fuller appreciation for Dostoyevsky’s brilliance by noting all of the various literary techniques (mocking his contemporaries by placing their views in various characters and quoting vast amounts of current literature), and the notes serve as in invaluable source for cross referencing / translating portions of the novel.

The breadth and scope of this novel’s insight into humanity still has my mind turning with aspects of each character. I initially felt quite disappointed when the novel simply ended without a real definite form of conclusion, but have since grown to greatly appreciate the ending as it leaves the novel as a continuous experience in which I must face the reality of humanity portrayed in Dostoyevsky’s characters as a small episode of the larger scope of human nature which transcends the historical and literary constraints of 19th century Russia.

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~ by veniatregnum on October 21, 2008.

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