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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic story
THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, which is one of Dostoyevsky's all time best, perhaps the best, adds to make him perhaps the best writer of all times. The author came up with so many great ideas and characters that are so real to life even in their complex emotions and rationales that we relate to the characters as if we are in their heads. In the end, not only do we have a great...
Published on Dec 28 2006 by Sergey Vasilev

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Laborious yet insightful reading
Brothers Karamazov is very complex, in relation to the characters and their interactions. To me the characters were not described very well and the dialogue seemed forced, at times incoherent(why is everyone having convulsions?)It seems Dostoyevsky did not have any strength left to make the dialogue interesting. People would lapse into fits for no reason and...
Published on Nov. 4 2001 by inspectorhoorah


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic story, Dec 28 2006
THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, which is one of Dostoyevsky's all time best, perhaps the best, adds to make him perhaps the best writer of all times. The author came up with so many great ideas and characters that are so real to life even in their complex emotions and rationales that we relate to the characters as if we are in their heads. In the end, not only do we have a great story, we are also left with a beautifully written work of political, psychological, sociological, ethical and psychological thought that is very true not only to Russia, but to other lands and peoples as well.

The greatest soul writer of all times and great contributor to human psychology successfully created a beautiful and amazing dynamism between the Karamazov brothers that has been the core of many stories after involving siblings. There is the unreliable father, the old Fyodor Karamazov whose life dominates his sons and whose death casts a huge shadow on their future.

Sensual Alyosha who is the youngest of the Karamazov brothers is the main character of the story, and he is noted for his strong faith in god and humanity, deep kindness and sense of sacrifice.

Ivan the atheist has a sharp mind and is the critical analyzer who seeks for meaning in everything. He is skeptical and dwells more on rationale in his dealing with people and issues. In the end, his intellectual mind misleads him and opens the doors to the nightmares in his life.

Dmitry is the sensitive brother who has a strong consideration for anything living, Smerdyakov their half-brother, is the cunning illegitimate son of old Fyodor Karamazov and works as Fyodor's servant.

The characters of the brothers and the events of their lives made for the complex and fascinating story of exceptional proportions, where faith, meekness, atheism, indifference and slavery to negative instincts and impulses are often in conflict. Faith and atheism or disbelief in God is taken to epic proportions in Ivan's encounter with the devil.

Dostoevsky stated that, "when there is no God, all is permitted.". That assertion is reinforced in books like UNION MOUJIK,THE IDIOT and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. The absence of God or lack of faith in man makes it possible for man to thrive in his worst animal instincts. Even when man starts with good intentions, the absence of faith usually derails him to the point where the good intentions are overshadowed by the negative effects of his actions. My conclusion is that this is a rare masterpiece.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Laborious yet insightful reading, Nov. 4 2001
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"inspectorhoorah" (philadelphia, PA USA) - See all my reviews
Brothers Karamazov is very complex, in relation to the characters and their interactions. To me the characters were not described very well and the dialogue seemed forced, at times incoherent(why is everyone having convulsions?)It seems Dostoyevsky did not have any strength left to make the dialogue interesting. People would lapse into fits for no reason and hallucinate constantly, it made you just want to get to the more philosophical sections. The personal interactions were mainly confusing and frustrating, many times I wanted to throw the book in the garbage. 75% of this book consisted of the characters going back and forth to each others houses talking about god knows what(you lose interest and lose track of who's who eventually and they all sound the same). This book was a definite chore-read, I did not suspect this having read "crime and punishment" beforehand, a book I was very impressed with. The only part I did enjoy were Dostoyevsky's questions about morality, which are always satisfying and informative. It is possible that Dostoyevsky's illness in later life reflects the poor effort of this book. I think that because it was his last, people assume that it was his greatest. I wouldnt waste your time, maybe read the cliff's notes. (...)
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Bloated Novel Full of Moral Predicaments, July 10 2015
Reading The Brothers Karamazov is like taking a virtual walk (a long and sometimes wearisome one) through 19th century Russia. Because the characters are fully developed, and then dilated upon at regular intervals, there is no need to flip back to reestablish who’s who. This unexpected absence of confusion in a novel this large allows one to drive right through those couple hundred pages of unnecessary composition and to savor the dozen or so matchless passages that make this novel a great resource to turn to once in a while. The longest boring stretch is either the investigation into the murder, or the interrogation of the chief suspect that follows from it. Together these parts take up a lot of space. This legal ‘red tape’ is like an epilogue from one of those cheap radio or television dramas, during which the detectives sit around the table to discuss the details of the case they just got through solving, which wrap-up one can never make sense of. The rise and fall between interesting and boring spells affects the reader in some sense like the man affected by jealous love, who, one moment, is ‘convinced of her faithlessness’ and ‘with joyful shame abuses himself for his jealousy’ the next (p. 356.) Or, with Dmitri, one might exclaim, “How strange it is! On the way here it seemed all right, and now it’s nothing but nonsense” (p. 348.) Like the jealous man, now, the critic fears to have gone too far, for the occasionally bored reader is bound to find in Dostoevsky’s wide-ranging insight into human experience, many incidents that seem to be written especially for him. Look, for example, at the accurate take on the trickiness of drink: “He drank off another glass, and—he thought it strange himself—that glass made him completely drunk. He was suddenly drunk, although till that moment he had been quite sober, he remembered that” (p. 411.) The drinker will relate. Although there is a lot of ‘creeping up to the subject’ (p. 450), once the subject is gotten to, there is often a sudden realization for the reader, which unexpected perception may be described by the following painted landscape: “Through the pale darkness of the night loomed a solid black mass of buildings, flung down, as it were, in the vast plain” (p. 386.) The startling appreciation of Smerdyakov as a fourth brother hit me just like that after much creeping up to the subject by the author. Before passing on to mention what some of the matchless passages are about, and where, in this fluctuating novel, they can be found, some compositional weaknesses might be mentioned particularly. The romantic aspect gets ‘harlequin’ at least once. “Kiss me, kiss me hard, that’s right. If you love me, well then love! I’ll be your slave….” (p. 410.) This painful passage is thankfully short. The fact that such a revered author actually wrote it makes the parading of it about as irresistible as the kiss itself! If not for the good reputation of the highly recommended Constance Garnet, maybe the translator could be blamed. The narrator’s frequent apologies are tiresome: “I will not repeat all the questions asked her and all her answers in detail….” (p. 640.) The ‘brain fever’ or ‘nervous fever’ is overused. Probably every character is smitten with it at least once.

Passages likely to strike the reader as second to none in literature are many. I counted about a dozen of these. Now, briefly, to point some of these out. The unraveling of Dmitri (Representative of Mother Russia, p. 657) is a tragicomedy that could stand on its own as something great. The revelry that takes possession of this character is life-like and puts us right in there with ‘the thud of the dance and the scream of the song’ (p. 674) Shyness, the affection that is even more dear than it is rare, is captured, as if in a snapshot. Sad to say that this shamedfacedness, this wonderful blend of discomfort and charm, can be seen so clearly only in a book nowadays (p. 51.) The evil of sacerdotalism, to wit, the agenda behind that religious whitewash, is powerfully shown (p. 238.) The weighty subject of suffering in a world created by God is drawn out to produce the kind of tension that prods response or investigation (p. 217.) Some comments on hell read as vividly, if not as biblically, as portions right out of Puritan sermons (pp. 299, 328.) The power of sensualism is immaculately and movingly described, and without the shame of explicit detail (p. 69, 70, 97, 124.) “All we Karamazovs are such insects, and, angel as you are, that insect lives in you, too, and will stir up a tempest in your blood…Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed and never can be fathomed…It’s terrible what mysteries there are!…I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom…Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret?” (p. 97.) Such passages may be soon read by anyone who would like to dip into great literature to get an inkling of what all the fuss is about. The chapter called The Grand Inquisitor is the scene that is best known and most spoken of, and therefore the place that inquirers most likely turn to in their desire to form some notion of whether or not the novel is a worthwhile read. But as a whole, it is far too shadowy to satisfy such an inquiry. And better critiques of Popish religion may be found in theological treatises.

This is more a man’s novel than a woman’s, I think, more intellectual than emotional (notwithstanding all that ‘brain fever.’) But in spite of it being more a man’s book, women are, just like in Notes from Underground, featured in a more virtuous light than men. Dmitri (nicknamed Mitya), for example, has a dilemma: “If I repay Katerina Ivanovna, where can I find the means to go off with Grushenka?” (p. 688.) Even Alexey, (nickname Alyosha), the hero with religious leanings, even he proves to be less holy than the lowest of the two women that the brothers romantically revolve around. He comes to her ‘rebelling against his God’ (p. 327) but before long has to declare that ‘there may be a treasure in that soul’ (p. 331.) It would be too much to say, though, that women are utterly exalted: “But try acknowledging you are in fault to a woman. Say, ‘I am sorry, forgive me,’ and a shower of reproaches will follow! Nothing will make her forgive you simply and directly, she’ll humble you to the dust, bring forward things that have never happened, recall everything, forget nothing, add something of her own, and only then forgive you. And even the best, the best of them do it” (p. 558.) The dual forces of love and hatred between the opposite sexes are evident, even where humor comes in: “Better Siberia than your love…’Your slave and enemy, D. Karamazov’” (p. 581.)

The great family affair is set some time shortly after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Other milestones include Kramskoy, the painter; the Anna Order, an order of chivalry established in 1735; and, oddly, Leo Tolstoy. More pertinently, “This is the age of Liberalism, the age of steamers and railways” (p. 79.) In light of the atheistic Communism to which the Liberalism of that epoch would arrive, the following statement by one of the brothers is chillingly relevant and prophetic: “A new man’s arising—that I understand…And yet I am sorry to lose God!” (p. 553.) (Most of the time, God is only mentioned for expletive purposes, which is enough of a black spot to withdraw from this novel its unreserved recommendation.) This sentence, more than any other, needs to be quoted by the critics who like to use fiction to teach moral lessons by. The horrors that have come to pass consequent to the Bolshevic Revolution are just the deductions of the new man rising up with his Liberal mind. And still we are surrounded by socialists! Maybe the liberal arts crowd only pretend to be reading the classics. You’d think that by reading this, or novels like it, they would learn that one should start to rethink the merits of these philosophies that spring from the incompetent intellect of man, and because of this, end tragically.

Not that we should assume the author meant to warn against a looming left wing totalitarianism by the haphazard comment of one of his characters. But there is a way to learn from the reading of any book, and we should take advantage. It seems obvious, notwithstanding, especially respecting the fact that this tome is the outcome of a serial endeavor, that Dostoevsky aimed to teach something by it; specifically, not just something about man, but about man’s quest to self-determine. Regardless of Dostoevsky’s own moral frustrations, like his habitual gambling, one gets the impression that the elder’s views of selflessness and brotherly love are his own and that the self-reformatory theme the author closes with is the gospel as best he understood it. That one might be left feeling that his object is to advance moralism as the gospel is inconsequential if one knows what the gospel really is and if one is determined not to exchange it for something less. But excessive quaffers of fiction are easily made drunk by intellectual narratives, and soon made to stagger from off the biblical foundation they unstably stand upon; and when these quaffers happen to be Christian leaders, many underlings follow in their careless footsteps. After all, is the following substitute for the gospel not spellbinding to the self-help spirit of guilt-stricken man?—: “And can it be a dream, that in the end man will find his joy only in deeds of light and mercy, and not in cruel pleasures as now, in gluttony, fornication…I believe that with Christ’s help we shall accomplish this great thing” (p. 294.) This is far different from the New Testament understanding of man’s ideal relationship to the moral law. The way to a righteous life is not by the attainment of virtue through Christ’s moral influence, but by the exercise of faith on the ground of Christ’s moral perfection. Virtuous living is not by the example or even help of Christ; it is by the hope of Christ in the soul. It’s the difference between trying to follow someone’s perfect example on our own strength, and having that perfect person enable us, from the inside, to perform works of righteousness. About a dozen years ago I happened to read a little from Christianity Today (only because an elder had it sitting on his coffee-table.) In there some Christian chief was promoting novels, of all things (among them War and Peace), in his list of books most essential for Christians to read! And this is how confusion, about what the gospel is, runs downhill to confound the Christian masses. It starts with some brilliant author who doesn’t couch his characters’ philosophies in the context of overarching truth; then some influential but immature moralist recognizes in there what he believes to be the gospel; and then un-catechized readers follow his advice and learn that the gospel must be the self-help moralism so eloquently preached by the fictitious character in a made-up story! These great novelists must be very guardedly read. Unless doctrine has become dogma to you, you could inadvertently take life-like characters for actual preachers of truth. Such can be the end result of Dostoevskian fiction, even if the author did not intend to effectuate it. Because of the primary place given to subordinate characters, the conclusion to this novel is surprisingly touching. Alyosha’s fluent speech is so persuasive that it could leave you believing that good behavior yields the resurrection of the just. Because the gospel is given to be moral effort, this fine literature can imperil all kinds of doctrines. Regeneration is presented as nothing more than the self-reforming act of man (p. 57.) When considered in light of society en masse, this regeneration resembles ‘liberation theology,’ not Christianity (p. 295.) Was Communism not enabled and emboldened by civil-ized ‘Christianity’ just like this? How will Russia be Orthodox? “God will save Russia…Salvation will come from the people” (p. 292.) Faith, meekness, and righteousness are mentioned in this passage too; but what the philosophy comes down to is a belief in the existence of God—but we will do it. This is the worldview. And it’s not Christian. From the novel at large, it is obvious that the ‘Christianity’ in this book is not much different from what the black liberation leaders preach in the USA. At best, it’s an earthly redemption from toil, not a redemption that gets you to heaven by the blood of Christ. It is easy with this kind of syncretistic belief (bare theism and theology of liberation) to be drawn into Revolution or to at least encourage an enemy to start one. Faith that only comes up to a belief in God’s existence, may, because of its powerlessness, be drawn into all kinds of disorders and beliefs, especially when a feeling of discontent about the state of civil order is stirred up in the soul. This kind of belief in God is always horizontal in its concerns and longings. Because of this, it is easy to detect. Now, turning back to religion in private life, all you get here, usually, and framed so eloquently, is a religion that cannot be defined as saving faith, but the reforming or sacrificing of self before a bare belief in the existence of God (pp. 292, 556, 557.) This is ethical theism, maybe, but that is no more than salvation by the self. Smerdyakov correctly observes that an eternal God is necessary for virtue to exist (p. 593.) Another good theistic plank, but being a theist is not enough. One could get convinced of many philosophies through this book, and almost every one of them is insufficient or false. One could even be convinced of the kind of liberty the French revolutionaries begot (p. 72), or of the Spartan salvation of monasticism (p. 291); that is, salvation by self-negation. But these things are not the gospel either, certainly! Civic freedom, self-denial, and moral reform may be ideals that a Christian could righteously advance. But they are not of Christianity’s essence. Faith in Jesus for accomplishing the moral standard required by an offended, holy God—this is. Someone (who can tell who) does say that by a full trust in the Lord’s grace one could hope to be forgiven (p. 119.) That’s a good thought, as far as it goes, but it isn’t enough. Where is Jesus? Where are his blood and righteousness? This book cannot be taken as some sort of narrative Christianity, as so many naively do, for no character in here stands for what Christianity essentially is. Alyosha, it must be admitted, seems to for a moment, for he communicates to his brother Ivan that God can forgive by virtue of having given innocent blood (p. 226.) But this gospel communication is hardly a stand, for this is elsewhere contradicted by him; and the statement is hardly the norm for what the gospel is presented as, for both moral reform and civic liberty are the ideas that are universally preached. Alyosha, as with every other speechmaker in the story, usually gets the gospel wrong. “Half your work is done,” he assures Ivan, “you love life, now you’ve only to try to do the second half and you are saved.” Regardless of what the second half of this work is, the first half, of loving life, conclusively shows that he preaches a self-salvation, for as soon as one’s work is included in the equation of salvation, that’s what it gets reduced to. Besides this, if the second half be considered, what is his answer? “Why, one has to raise up your dead, who perhaps have not died after all” (p. 213.) So the self-salvation is here given to include a self-regeneration, and this (because depravity is denied in the last clause), for one who might not even have need of it! When the gospel with a big G is held up for a standard in here, called ‘the Gospel of our Lord,’ what is meant is forgiveness from us to fellow men (p. 703), not forgiveness for us from God, not forgiveness from God received by faith, and not forgiveness through the blood of Christ. This is the prevailing thought that we find regarding what is meant by Christianity in this book. And this is probably, therefore, what so many of Dostoevsky’s readers (look at the reviews on Amazon) believe to be gospel Christianity. ‘Love your neighbor’ is not the gospel. Dostoevsky was jailed for his participation in secret talks of utopian socialism. Who’s to say, for that matter, that a revolution arising out of that would have been much safer and more righteous than terrorist Communism? Who’s to say that Communism is not the outcome of such utopian talks? His confession to a ‘regeneration’ of his convictions included this idea that common people are fundamentally good. This kind of ‘regeneration’ is not from God, for its fruits, or convictions, are unbiblical: no one is fundamentally good, everyone is totally depraved. “There is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3.12.) These convictions of his regarding regeneration and inherent goodness exactly agree with the moral paradigm running through this novel. But they both clash with gospel truth. This information on the convictions that he got through his ‘regeneration’ is gleaned from Encyclopedia Britannica. It seems based on fact. There is no reason to disbelieve. But when this dictionary begins to interpret, beware. It calls The Brothers Karamazov ‘a deeply Christian novel.’ I hope that I have convincingly shown, by now, that this is what it’s not. This same dictionary calls Dostoevsky’s Possessed ‘a profoundly conservative and Christian work.’ Observe, now, on what basis the claim is made. It is because of the expression in there ‘of great sympathy for workers and other ordinary people.’ This is no proof of its being Christian any more than The Salvation Army can be proved to be so by the same. Any group on earth can exercise, straight from the unregenerate heart, sympathy for people suffering misery. It proves nothing toward the group being Christian. Jesus comments on this kind of love, and asks, “Do not even the publicans the same” (Matthew 5.46.) Loving back fellow workers is nothing more than any person is capable of doing. It’s not necessarily evangelical, but love exercised through the common grace bestowed upon all by our Creator. But lastly, touching now on the event that the novel hinges upon, and the central, though not most concerning, belief that may be threatened: civil justice. Sympathy is generated for a style of justice that will discharge less than due punishment for the crime by our being let in on the secret that the brother accused and convicted of parricide is not even guilty. The Brothers Karamazov in one hand, a dependable catechism in the other—then you’re safe. Philosophically, psychologically, ethically, and even theologically, the novel delivers flourishes of grandeur. But one has to be careful what disquisition to accept as true. Astounding riddles line these pages as if the author had nothing to do in life except to think up moral and metaphysical complexities. These are entertaining and wonderfully thought-provoking. The one ending on page 117, for example, caused Grigory’s eyes to nearly start out of his head. But one should be made aware: first, that the author does not hold in here, not by any character, a biblical notion of what the gospel is; and second, that moral speeches contrived by masters usually come with agendas.

Viewing this novel as Christian prose betrays a person’s ignorance of what the gospel is. Furthermore, it is a ridiculous stretch to see “versions of the Christ story played out by each of the three legitimate brothers.” Jon Surgal, author of the Introduction, must be even more ignorant in this as those who merely see Christianity played out! What kind of suffering Christ is Dmitri, who, by his own confession, not only had to reform, but who ‘lived like a wild beast’ every time he made the attempt? (p. 704.) What kind of redeemer is Alyosha, who, in a moment of depression, goes looking for the harlot who then proves to be more conscientious than he is? And the temptations of Christ are no more side by side with Ivan’s than with Dmitri’s or Alyosha’s. There is no record in Scripture of Christ being tempted by a woman, which seems to be the main sort of temptation going on in the Karamazov story. It is the main one, for it underlies all of Dmitri’s temptations; it is the sin by which Alyosha chooses to rebel against God; and it is the craving for his brother’s betrothed that principally vexes Ivan. Surely, if there is any attempt by Dostoevsky to come alongside Christ by these characters, then he too must be labeled ignorant, not to mention incompetent and maybe mad. An editor should be learned enough, in any case, to notice the weaknesses in his own guessing-game and then give it out that these Christ figures are more oblique than parallel. To those who see the gospel as ‘the Christ story’ not much is left sacred. The most brilliant move where characters are concerned is the injection of the outlying Smerdyakov, who is neither primary nor tertiary, and who, being the bastard son, resembles Judas. I won’t go too far with this wild card except to say that he betrayed innocent blood, rejected the money he contrived to get, and then committed suicide. In the words of the lawyer for the defense, “The psychological method is a two-edged weapon, and we, too, can use it” (p. 690.) But this parallelism fits the facts without trouble, and with no abuse of any Divine Name. Smerdyakov is more essential to the story than any one of the legitimate brothers, for, like in the gospel of Matthew, “it must needs be that offences come.”

Although Smerdyakov is most essential, and Alyosha is the author’s appointed hero, Dmitri is the character that is most developed and most representative of the complex nature of man. His contradictory attributes are openly displayed in his dualistic appearance, if we allow that muscularity reminds us of more goodness, while sallow cheeks remind us more of moral darkness. His expressions and actions, too, bear witness to man’s duplex nature: “People who saw something pensive and sullen in his eyes were startled by his sudden laugh” (p. 59.) The good and the bad in all men find their exemplification in him. The end of the bad is shown in his life becoming undone; but the end of the good is shown in Alyosha’s contrasting hope.

These ends (notwithstanding the method of salvation being ubiquitously mis-communicated) shadow both the good and evil outcomes that all men will eventually come to. The brotherly juxtaposition is not only given to us generally, but also on one page lest we miss it. While Dmitri is pictured on the edge of making ‘an end of everything without waiting for the dawn,’ Alyosha is in a rapture for life itself (p. 384.)

Dmitri dooms himself, carnal; Alyosha springs with hope, sacred; Ivan weighs the possibilities, intellectual. Ivan’s lack of resolve to go one way or the other agrees with the smaller part he plays and how indistinct an impression he makes upon our mind. What the other brothers are like is easy to recall, while he remains, for the most part, a mystery. We do not feel shortchanged by any lack of description or anything, not at all. Dostoevsky sufficiently describes even subordinate, almost superfluous characters, comprehensively, like the following seminary student standing by a door: “His expression was one of unquestioning, self-respecting reverence” (p. 33.) It’s just that Ivan’s ambivalence defies identification.

Many other threads could be followed. We could cull from thick paragraphs a long list of pithy sayings for inclusion in some dictionary of quotations. (Probably it’s been done.) “Fools are made for wise men’s profit,” for example (p. 329.) Questions might be asked, like did all this well executed advocacy for the devil prompt an English don to write The Screwtape Letters? It seems plausible.

This book’s frequent cogitations arise from the ‘recklessness of the Karamazovs’ (p. 476)—men of action who live in the present (p. 672.) This is the most striking paradox out of the many to be found. The deepest question that is raised is not what brother killed his father nor why; nor when is killing murder; not why man desires the death of another; nor how come man is sometimes happy to hear about a death. The grand question concerns an ideal and its implication. The final words of the elder include a bit of biography concerning his literal brother who, just before his premature death, had so religiously affected him. Quoting the elder’s brother, “Every one is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything” (p. 266.) Later, the brother accused of murder says, “I accept my punishment, not because I killed him, but because I meant to kill him, and perhaps I really might have killed him” (p. 478.) Here someone is trying to live up to the martyr-like ideal, and the tension as to whether he will indeed absorb it is never resolved, for we are never taken to the point of sentencing and we never get to see whether the brother of the accused follows through with an escape plan meant to carry him off to the strained happiness of exile. (For good or ill, there is no closure.) But the point of the self-deprecating ideal is to stir us up against the execution of justice. This is the tendency of the book. This is what follows logically from the ideal: “For no one can judge a criminal, until he recognizes that he is just such a criminal as the man standing before him, and that he perhaps is more than all men to blame for that crime” (p. 297.) Human depravity and responsibility, then, yield an inability to judge anyone of anything. Doctrinal misrepresentation just like this is the cause of our ‘judge not’ society that treats criminals like victims. And so the hope that certain emotional women harbor at the trial is supposed to sweep over everyone, or at least make it so that everyone expects it. “Almost every one had reckoned upon a recommendation to mercy” (p. 706.) The Judicial Error of Book Twelve is supposed to, by the use of philosophical rationalization that compels feelings of sadness for the falsely accused, convert us to recommendations of mercy to all. This is Dostoevsky’s grand objective, if you ask me. We are at least supposed to be put off looking to capital punishment to right any wrongs that have been done, no matter how heinous. In light of all this, we must be biblical: forgiveness does not, in the Bible, trump our civic duty to support the bearing of the sword against the worst of our criminals by the powers that be (Romans 13.)

Curious Christians read the spellbinding words of literary masters; and, like the foolish Galatians, get to thinking that the gospel is something else than it really is, and also, or if this doesn’t happen, get messed up doctrinally because of their lack of learning. The gospel, and doctrine generally, may be falsely presented because of ignorance. This is no doubt the case in some part by Fyodor Dostoevsky in this most famous oeuvre of his. But there is an agenda here too. This book contains matchless passages that might make it a must-keep resource. But it is a dangerous book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Essential Dostoevsky, beginners maybe start elsewhere, May 1 2004
By 
Karl Becker (Iowa, USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Brothers Karamazov (Hardcover)
The Brothers Karamazov is a magnificent piece of literature. Anyone the least bit familiar with Fyodor Dostoevsky will easily spot his hand at work here, which means some familiar ground for readers of other works by the author. This is not at all negative, however; this volume overflows with illuminating, thought-provoking Dostoevsky ideas.
The Constance Garnett translation is somewhat awkward; I find Garnett overly monotonous and convoluted. Though Dostoevsky is no quick nor casual read, his text was certainly confused in some of Garnett's meandering passages. I feel other translators do a more concise and entertaining job, while keeping the same ideas intact, though I've only briefly read other translations.
To give evidence to my critique, the notes on translation in the back of my text indicate some issues, including the title itself! Instead of "The Brothers Karamazov," the book should probably be "The Karamazov Brothers." As editor Ralph E. Matlaw states, "we do not refer to 'the brothers Kennedy'," and I'll mention "the sisters Hilton." On the bright side, I feel the strange title makes the book feel more "foreign" and exotic.
Matlaw also states Garnett doesn't just confuse the reader with some language, but actually simplifies and cleans up other language, turning at least one character into a more polished version than Doestoevsky probably intended. Thankfully, Garnett's peculiarities become familiar and comfortable. Overall, this book is sufficiently readable.
Of note to first-time Dostoevsky readers is the extreme number of characters quickly introduced near the beginning of the book, with the traditional cavalcade of Russian names, surnames, and nicknames. This is no deficiency of the translator, but rather a difficulty inherent with the source text.
Fans of Dostoevsky may simply be wondering: is this worth the time to read? After taking in all 700+ pages, I can answer a resounding yes. Ideas introduced in earlier works are here fleshed out into living, breathing, bleeding human beings. I feel the characters are some of the most real I've ever encountered in literature. The variety in people eases the reader's process of identifying with a character; I identified with multiple throughout the book.
For those being introduced to Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment may be better, simply because Karamazov has a slow, disorienting beginning. However, if you enjoy the Russian master, you will relish in the delight of Karamazov.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Russian Gen Xers Looking for Love, June 5 2002
By 
Matthew E. Olken "BostonToAustin" (Austin, TX United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This recent Russian novel has lately been getting a lot of attention in America following the release of The Brothers McMullen, an American movie based upon the book. With all of the hype surrounding the film, this new English translation should propel Dostoevky's work to the bestseller list and may even become one of Oprah's new favorites!
The story focuses on three Gen X brothers, Dmitry, Alexi and Ivan, coming to terms with relationships and careers in the ironic and apathetic late-90s. Dmitry is the party kid, recklessly drinking and gambling and picking up loose women. His character is clearly inspired by the anti-heroes of Jay McInernery and Bret Easton Ellis. Then there's the thoughtful college student Ivan. He is wracked with indecision as he finds that his philosophy courses have only prepared him for jobs at the local Safeway. The youngest, Alexi, is the good kid - a former altar boy with a big heart and an eye for good deeds. He becomes increasingly frustrated when he finds that girls don't always go for nice boys.
The three brother's lives are all impacted by their troubled relationship with their foolhardy and negligent father. Having lost two wives, his role as a single parent is compromised by excessive drinking and disorderliness. Their troubled household is clearly inspired by some of the seminal writings of S. E. Hinton.
When the father unexpectedly dies, the plot takes a 180 degree turn and we suddenly find ourselves in an intense Law & Order style courtroom drama. Look out O.J.! Solving this crazy whodunit becomes a real brain twister. Lovers of teen drama and mystery novels alike will have to exercise considerable restraint to avoid sneaking a peek at the surprise ending!
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5.0 out of 5 stars What lurks within the hearts of men, Nov. 26 2001
By 
If Charles Dickens's novels are a romanticization of Victorian England, then Dostoevsky's must be a realization of 19th Century Russia. "The Brothers Karamazov" not only sheds light on Czarist Russian life, society, and religion, but also succeeds in completely captivating the reader with its vivid characterization and dynamic plotting. Like Dostoevsky's other novels, it is a study in man's motivations for good and evil, his potential for corruption, and his glory in salvation. Each character, scene, and event in the novel seems to relay a principle that religion provides the structure for society, for better or worse.
The novel chronicles the fragmented Karamazov family, who live in a small Russian town. The father, Fyodor, is a hedonistic, boorish landowner, twice a widower, who has his eye on a young lady named Grushenka. He has four sons: The oldest is Dmitri, an ex-military officer, a passionate, desperate, violent young man who is like his father in many ways; for one thing, he also is madly in love with Grushenka. There is Dmitri's half-brother Ivan, intellectual and studious, but morbid and cynical, and whose motto is "everything is lawful." There is Ivan's gentle, magnanimous brother Alyosha who is an initiate monk and whom Ivan likes to provoke with his iconoclastic discourse. Finally, there is the illegitimate Smerdyakov, a morose and cruel young man who works as Fyodor's cook. None of the brothers has a particularly loving relationship with their father or with each other.
Each brother has a personal devil and an angel. Dmitri's devil is Grushenka; his angel is a young lady named Katerina to whom he is engaged, both connubially and financially. Alyosha's devil is a divinity student named Rakitin, who exploits the misfortunes of the Karamazovs; his angel is his mentor, Father Zossima, who represents religious solace. Ivan's angel is his brother Alyosha; his devil is his own conscience, with whom he converses in one unforgettable chapter. Smerdyakov's devil and angel are the same person: his father, the only person who has ever entrusted him. It is interesting to observe how each brother's devil and angel influence his actions and thoughts and provide conflict throughout the novel.
One night, Fyodor is murdered, and Dmitri, who has the most urgent motive, is accused of the crime. This could be considered the central event of the novel, but it is not the event on which the novel's profundity rests. What is profound is the series of psychological mind games that the brothers play with each other both before and after the murder; they could be any trashy family on a modern TV talk show, but they have Shakespearean complexity and depth in the way they express their anguish and weave their webs of deceit.
The novel ends with a seemingly positive notion about death and the joy in the remnants of life; in the very last scene, the stirring speech that Alyosha delivers after a young friend's funeral could have been Dostoevsky's own requiem. This is a staunchly uncompromising novel, refusing to provide any easy answers and forcing the reader to look inside his own heart for the source of good and evil.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Slightly over the top, July 10 2001
There's really no point in arguing that this anything but a really great novel. It is an epic work, with an almost epic length as well; an the exploration of the relations between three (actually four, if the illegitimate house-servant is included) brothers, the sons of a selfish, greedy, conniving, morally and physically repugnant father. In many ways, "Brothers Karamazov" can probably be viewed as a reflection of Russian intellectual/spiritual culture in the 19th century, and perhaps even beyond. Like his other works, this book also contains Dostoevsky's literary musings on the state of Russian society as he saw it. Even so, this is also weighty book: in a fashion similar to Tolstoy, Dostoevsky was quite obsessed with the concept of personal redemption, the moral catharsis (or 'moral bath' as Tolstoy called it in "War & Peace"), atonement for sins, etc. and this, together with his religious mysticism (and the accompanying good vs. evil symbolism), can become quite tiresome at times. Dostoevsky was a very conservative Christian tormented by his own vices and a virulent opponent of Western European Enlightenment ideals (he viewed them as a threat to Russian culture and the Russian soul), and this is often reflected in "Brothers Karamazov." Personally, I think the best parts of the book are when Dostoevsky explores the mindsets of his various characters, creating a very psychologically tense atmosphere. Also, his portrayals of the interactions and conflicts between his various characters is superb. In this sense, it is similar to "Crime and Punishment," which is a better book - simply because it tends to focus more on one major theme. Thus, after reading "Crime and Punishment" one can easily be left with the impression that the "Brothers Karamazov" is a slight case of overkill in some aspects. However, on its own it is nonetheless a great book and definitely worth reading - although due consideration should be given to its historical context, meaning the place and time in which it was written (tsarist Russia in the 19th century).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dostoyevsky's last novel, May 17 2001
By 
csaisaok (Bowie, Maryland) - See all my reviews
There can be no argument that Dostoyevsky is one of the finest novelist in literature. It is so rare that you can read a novel and see reflections of yourself as well as being so true and exacting as far human nature is concerned. This novel will make you ask questions of yourself. Do reflect those positive values expressed by Dostoyevsky? Am I a good person? Does pride get in the way of person being truly happy or do many of us live as tormented damned souls who "live on their vindictive pride like a starving man in the desert sucking blood out of his own body" as he puts it? The point of the book is that in order to have happiness and peace you must have love and love can only be achieved by accepting the love of Christ, and worldly cynacism and pride are barriers that separate us from divine love. These self created barrirs lead to despair and death. This novel can never become dated. It is a masterpiece for all the ages.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The meaning of life?, March 8 2001
By 
"zaloop" (Walpole, MA USA) - See all my reviews
I recently read a book so amazing, so well-written, and so memorable that I simply must tell you about it. It's The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. After reading another of Dostoyevsky's novels, Crime and Punishment, a while ago, and thoroughly loving it, I had to get this one, for I had heard it was his best work. And I can't disagree. To sum up the premise quickly, the novel takes place in Russia circa 1890, and tells the story of four brothers who become involved in the murder of their own father. That is the most basic summary of the plot I can give; but it doesn't even begin to give you an idea of the territory covered in this massive, sprawling novel. (Over 700 pages of great literature.) There are other things going on besides this murder, and eventually the novel is about so much more than this.
This novel has possibly some of the best characterization I've ever seen for any book, period. This is not an exaggeration. First, the four brothers are each given their own distinct personality and background (even though they are brothers they come from different pasts) and become some of the most developed, recognizable, and memorable characters I've ever encountered. In addition, the father is one of the most pathetic, funny, and evil characters in literature. But even then, Dostoyevsky does not stop. There are probably ten or fifteen secondary characters that appear a lot, and even more third-tier figures that don't have much time in the book but are still memorable. This is because whenever a new character is introduced, the author devotes at least a couple of full, developed passages telling the reader about the person, and reveals even more through the many conversations and speeches people have. Remarkably, there are never any repetetive characters. Dostoyevsky manages to create a new, unique, living, breathing person out of every character.
This is also one of the most thematically inclusive books I've ever read, one with such depth. Thanks to the incredible characters and well thought-out plot, the novel discusses a whole range of themes. Dostoyevsky must have been a philosopher or psychologist just as much as he was a writer. Through his characters he expounds on the idea that people have the uncanny ability to harbor opposite and contrasting values within themselves at the same time. Good and evil exist side by side in the hearts of men. Dostoyevsky also shows us that some people are never happy because they don't want to be, and that this fact makes them happy. As long as they are unhappy in their own way, they remain happy, even if they know it's not to their advantage.
Dostoyevsky was so ahead of his time with this novel- his deep knowledge of humanity is so evident. Years before Freud, he develops the idea of punishment as a way to alleviate guilt and love as a way to cure shame, or as he puts it, "self-laceration." He was probably one of the very first to fully implement into his characters the concept of the split personality. At one point, one of the characters has a conversation with his alter-ego, fully aware that he doesn't exist. It's so impressive, it really puts some modern stuff into perspective.
Death, love, forgiveness, immortality, religion, God, the Devil, all of these things are more than briefly touched upon in the course of this narrative. At one point, a character remarks, "I don't know whether God created Man or Man created God, but if the Devil exists, he was created in Man's image." In one chapter, Christ comes back to earth and is challenged and shunned by the religious community. The Devil himself even appears as a person to discuss philosophy and religion with one of the characters. When he's asked, "How are you able to take on human form?" the Devil replies, "Nothing human is beyond me." Powerful, chilling moments like these fill the book.
There are so many moments of pure, unfiltered humanity in this novel, it's as if the author's whole life is bleeding through in the pages. When he creates an evil character, we believe in him, and when he creates the opposite- a truly pure figure- we believe in him, as well. In fact, this book has one of the most believably good characters of all stories. Dostoyevsky plunges the depths of man's soul, and what he brings up is sometimes scary, sometimes beautiful. If there are any stories out there that can come close to showing us the meaning of life, The Brothers Karamazov is one of them.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beauty Will Save The World!!, Feb. 7 2001
By 
Susanne Sklar (Shimer College, Waukegan IL) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Brothers Karamazov (Hardcover)
"Love to throw yourself on the earth and kiss it! Kiss the earth and love it with an unceasing, consuming love. Love all men, love everything! Water the earth with the tears of your joy and love those tears. Don't be ashamed of your ecstasy, prize it."
Thus ended the paragraph that saved my life from Book VI of Constance Garnett's translation of The Brothers Karamazov. Read unintentionally in tandem with the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony it wreaked upon me a transvaluation of all values. This also happened to some of my students at Shimer College where I teach both the Constance Garnett and the Pevear/Volokhonsky translations. I urge my students who love the book to read BOTH translations. Constance Garnett's poetic grasp of Dostoyevsky's language (with occasionally antiquated twists of phrase) assumes the worldview of the nineteenth century, which is the century in which Dostoyevsky wrote. Her first translation appeared in about 1912.
She lovingly captures the cadences of Father Zosima's voice. This wise elder's words are at the heart of this book. I have never understood why his chapter, "The Russian Monk" has not been excerpted and widely read as "The Grand Inquisitor" which precedes it. Poverty, injustice, cruelty, and the suffering of innocents can only be transformed by love--and beauty. This book, a murder mystery interwoven with four love-triangles, exploring dysfunctional families, the nature of God, erotic lacerations, forgiveness, the devil, and the Russian soul can give you the equipment you need to cope with life's agonies, to go through suffering and into joy.
Hurrah for Karamazov!
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The Brothers Karamazov
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Hardcover - Jan. 23 1996)
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