Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic novel revolves around three brothers: Dmitri, Ivan and Alexei (a.k.a. Alyosha). Dmitri is romantic, impulsive and violent; Ivan is an intellectual who has rejected faith in God; and Alyosha is a kind but inexperienced young man who is preparing for life in a monastery. When their father is murdered Dmitri becomes the prime suspect. The story, while detailing the crime and subsequent events, focuses more on the nature and outlook of the three brothers. It makes for an intriguing contrast of ideologies: Dmitri’s hedonism continues without consequence for a time, but eventually sees him career down a steep path of destruction; Ivan’s atheism challenges traditional ideas but ends in madness; while Alyosha’s faith endures, in spite of his doubts and the trouble it brings him. Despite the nineteenth century Russian setting, and the fact that most of the characters have names I don’t know how to pronounce, the worldviews personified in the book are a pertinent depiction of modern western culture. The novel is deliberately a work of philosophy as much as storytelling, and provides a buffet of food for thought.
Generally speaking, Russian literature is not known for being lighthearted and fast-paced, and The Brothers Karamazov faithfully upholds this reputation. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great book. The emotional and philosophical elements of the story are profound and beautifully crafted, but I couldn’t help thinking the book could do with a change of pace once in a while. Surely somewhere amid the eight hundred pages of soul-searching and gloom the author could have thrown in a bank robbery, or the final bout of a mysterious kickboxing tournament. Maybe at a dinner scene, one of the characters could have added chocolate laxatives to a dessert by mistake—imagine the chaos! Not to mention the welcome laughs it would afford the reader. I don’t want to tell Dostoevsky how to do his job, but I also think he missed a golden opportunity with the whole “brothers” angle of the story. He should have made them identical triplets, and then the other characters would always be getting confused as to which brother they were talking to. It would have lightened things up a bit, and balanced out a plot saturated with loss and hopelessness.
Despite its lack of laughs and edge-of-your-seat action, I am glad I read this book. If you’re in the mood for deep thinking, The Brothers Karamazov is a good read—provided you can spare the weeks to read it. 7/10
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