Context: Listened to this while working in the kitchens of Wycliffe UK – cutting onions mostly.
It’s quite a simple plot really. Each brother represents a different element of society. There’s the religious humanitarian, the scoundrel and the one that no one can quite place. Add some life-changing events into the mix and then sit back and see how they all react. Oh… and cos it’s the 19th century, let’s sermonise about a whole range of topics on the way. Voila, The Brothers Karamazov.
This was removed from the 2008 edition of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. There was outcry, but having read others by Fyodor, I can understand why.
If I had not read three other of his novels and, in particular, I had never read Crime & Punishment, I’d probably think this was a masterpiece. It’s good and it’s one of the world’s greatest. But compared to his other works, I think it’s tame.
In essence, it’s all of Notes from the Underground, Crime & Punishment and the Idiot condensed into one novel. Sounds like a fantastic epic but it isn’t at all. Instead, it’s a watered down edit of them. Notes from the Underground is profound in its challenge to consider the great questions of a person’s existence. C&P is profound in its exploration of human motivation, guilt, law and grace. The Idiot is a (admittedly slightly less) profound character study and illustration of Russian society.
Brothers has a little bit of all of these and, as a result, it’s an abridgement. And the ending is flat – totally flat. It’s absolutely not the way the last written words of Dostoevsky should have been.
So, if you’re pushed for time and need to read one Dostoevsky by all means choose this one. But if you want the heart and soul of the man, head into the other three and feast on their themes.
Alexey Fyodorovitch Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov, a landowner well known in our district in his own day, and still remembered among us owing to his gloomy and tragic death, which happened thirteen years ago, and which I shall describe in its proper place.
“Hurrah for Karamazov!”
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