The Brothers Karamazov / Fyodor Dostoevsky

This classic novel has been reviewed countless times since its publication in 1880 and I can only add my voice to the chorus of praise it has received.  It is a spiritual melodrama that explores the moral struggles concerning faith and doubt, free will, possible patricide, tradition vs. modernization in Russia, all filtered through the eyes and deeds of a truly dysfunctional family.  The three brothers in the story, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha have issues with Fyodor, their father.  He is a “sponger,” a buffoon, and a drunkard who takes no interest in his motherless children.  As a result, the three brothers have been raised apart from each other and their father.  Dostoevsky uses a variety of characters, viewpoints, and narratives to convey the themes of the book.  The two older brothers, Ivan and Dmitri, are presented as being most like their father, while Alyosha represents good triumphing over evil.  Dmitri’s relationship with his father is the most volatile, escalating to violence when the two clash over money and compete for the affection of the same woman.  Tension mounts and culminates in Fyodor’s murder, with Dmitri arrested for the crime.  While he is not guilty of the crime, the second half of the novel gives a gripping blow-by-blow presentation of his trial.  It is the murder of their father that leads the older brothers to a spiritual rebirth as they examine their intentions and actions in the events leading to the crime.  The first half of the novel is the most difficult to read because of the numerous themes explored, and while they often seem off-topic, each serves to develop the true character of the major protagonists.  I found I could only read about ten pages of this novel at a sitting before feeling overwhelmed by its content, but my slow reading of it gave me a greater appreciation of its complexity.  This review barely touches upon the depths of this novel, and the curious are urged to read it for themselves.  While it requires patience and time to get through, the book rewards by becoming permanently embedded in one’s memory.  Dostoevsky died shortly after its completion, and it represents the culmination of his talent as a writer.  What can I add but that this is a must read.

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