March was Classics month, and in the spirit of that, I tried to kickstart my umpteenth attempt of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Well, less said about that the better. The number of people, the constant conversations, and references to people and incidents that I had no idea about confused me so much that I had to give it up once again. I am starting to feel that War and Peace is just for Russians, and just does not have enough cross-over appeal (at least not for me anyway).
So, it was with a sense of trepidation that I embarked on The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. But so far, the book has proved itself to be quite an enjoyable read.
I have completed Parts 1 and 2 (out of 4 parts), and here I am posting my thoughts on what I have read so far…
My thoughts so far:
This book is a grand soap-opera of a story. It has a wickedly depraved father (Fyodor Dostoyevsky), with his 3 sons who hate/dislike him with various degrees of intensity. His sons are:
- Dmitry (nickname Mitya) is the most like his father in character
- Ivan (nickname Vanya) is the intellectual who feels he is superior to his father
- Alexei (nickname Alyosha) is the sweetheart who wants to become a monk. He is the only person who seems to have some genuine concern for his father’s welfare.
- There is also Smerdyakov – the servant who may/may not be Fyodor’s illegitimate son.
There are also 2 love triangles established in the first half of the book.
Dmitry and his father are both in love with one woman – Grushenka. Ivan is in love with Dmitry’s fiancee Katerina, who is trying to extract Dmitry from Grushenka’s clutches.
Oohh…stuff of soap operas indeed. Some scenes (for example, the confrontation between Katerina and Grishenka) were highly melodramatic but at the same time extremely entertaining.
However, this book would never have been so famous were just about these love triangles and the father-sons conflict alone. Through his characters, Dostoyevsky tries to explore the greater meaning of living – discussions about religion, reason for existence, even some initial thoughts on capitalism vs communism is discussed in this book.
At times, the discussions can get heavy-going (for example, Ivan’s long monologue in The Grand Inquisitor), but for the most part Dostoyevsky cleverly intersects some entertainment to make sure that the book does not remain too serious too long.
I must admit though that I was a bit surprised by how “modern” Ivan’s thinking is. In some ways, I feel Dostoyevsky was giving voice to his personal beliefs using Ivan’s voice (but that’s just the impression I got, haven’t read anything to support that belief). In addition, I was a bit touched by how much Ivan seemed to be affected by the brutalities he saw around him (especially things like beating children, which I think might have been quite a standard practice those days). Alyosha on the other hand is more simple, he has belief and he hopes that belief and good thoughts and actions are enough to see the day.
So, these two brothers are very interesting characters and I am looking forward to seeing how they develop through the course of the novel.
Dmitry on the other hand is a character quite typical of those times – a soldier, and womanizer who is constantly broke and who is always hoping for a handout from his father, which he thinks he deserves. So far, nothing very interesting about him, but he is showing himself to be the obvious candidate for suspect #1 for his father’s future murder.
That said, I found the narrative aspect of the book a bit confusing. Who is the “I” referred to in the beginning of the book? The narrator seems to know so much, but it is obviously not one of the brothers. In fact, this bothered me quite a bit throughout, until somewhere in between part 2 the book suddenly slips into third person.
Did anyone else find this as annoying as I did?
Whatever…I think there’s been enough talk and discussions in the book now. Time for the murder and the whodunnit aspect.
I will provide my final thoughts once I complete this book, but so far this is a highly entertaining read (if you are talking classics), and surprisingly very readable as well. Highly recommend! 🙂
More deeper thoughts and insights from some of the other participants can be found from Dolce Bellezza’s blog