The Brothers Karamazov – Readalong Participation and Status

The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov

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

13 Responses
  • Let's Read
    April 22, 2010

    Tolstoy is always a little confusing. I remember reading “Ressurection” and thougt : I am dumb, really I didn’t understand almost anything..
    Dostoevsky,I neve read but after everybody commenting how great he is , may be I should.

    • Nish
      April 23, 2010

      @Sumana: You could try Dostoyevsky. He gets a little wordy and melodramatic sometimes, but the way he writes his characters is amazing.

      The Brothers Karamazov is very readable and fast-moving. You don’t really feel as though you are ploughing through pages. I felt like that with War and Peace, each page was an effort to get through.

  • Shelley
    April 21, 2010

    You touched on something I agree with–the timeless/universal nature of the story. The book explores questions that mankind will always be asking. I felt the same way reading Ivan’s part.
    It is very melodramatic!

  • Bellezza
    April 21, 2010

    I’m so glad you joined in the read-along, and that it’s working for you so far! I think a big part of the love one feels for it comes from the translation; I wonder what copy you’re reading? I’ve enjoyed my Pevear, but I haven’t tried a translation from someone else.

    Aren’t all the components of the brothers and the love triangles interesting? Can’t wait to talk about Parts 3 and 4 with you!

  • Vaishnavi
    April 20, 2010

    Oooh. I have been wanting to read this one for a long time but it is on my list for next year. So is War and Peace 🙂

    • Nish
      April 20, 2010

      @Vaishnavi: I think you”ll like this one. I am enjoying it considerably.

      As for War and Peace, I have retired hurt 🙁

  • Layman
    April 20, 2010

    Sorry to spam. Perumbadavam’s interpretation of Dostoevsky though popular is highly inaccurate (says G N Panicker. He has written a book on the life and works of Fyodor Dostoevsky)

    • Nish
      April 20, 2010

      @Layman: not spam at all 🙂

  • Layman
    April 20, 2010

    I became a great fan of Dostoevsky through Perumbadavam Sreedharan’s novel – “oru Sankeerthanam Pole”. I started reading “The Brothers Karamazov” but stopped midway due to the same old excuses.

    I have always felt that you need one or two weeks of uninterrupted peace to enjoy Dostoevsky. He is too deep, too elaborate. Now that you posted this book here, I’m inspired to continue reading the same.

    Right now I’m reading the Malayalam translation of “The Idiot” (somehow feel that translations of novels are better read in mother tongue, if they are available – just my opinion though)

    About the narrative aspect, I remember reading in wiki that it was considered a “slipshod’ by many critics –

    PS: Isn’t the father’s name Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov?

    • Nish
      April 20, 2010

      @Layman: That’s interesting. After finishing this book, I must look up Oru Sankeerthanam Pole…only on the web of course, because unfortunately I cannot read Malayalam.

      They should start audio books for Indian language books, lol…would definitely bring these books to a wider audience

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