The tangled fates of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his four sons, three legitimate, one a bastard, culminating in a trial for murder.
I’d be a fool if I tried to pretend I were anywhere up to the task of critiquing The Brothers Karamazov. I can honestly say I’m a little freaked out by what I’ve just been through. Karamazov is a rollicking glory of human depravity shot through with tastes of the divine. Dostoevsky doesn’t hesitate to put theology and intellectual arguments adjacent to lively carnality. I read the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation, which really moves, showing off the Pantagruelian aspect of Dostoevsky’s endeavor.
I loved the characters, but became frustrated when they made choices that seemed arbitrary or just plain stupid. I felt sorry for Smerdyakov, the bastard son, born to Stinking Lizaveta–but then again, I felt some measure of pity for all of Fyodor Karamazov’s sons. He’s the original deadbeat dad, though his attempts at involvement in Alyosha’s life prove almost as destructive than his abandonment of oldest son Dmitri.
There were long passages that frustrated me, and I know I didn’t glean from this book even a quarter of the riches it contains. I don’t often say this, but I wish that I’d read it for a class in college, so as to get the context and a window into its meaning. Lectures and class discussion sure helped me love Moby-Dick, for example.
The book I was most reminded of while reading Karamazov was John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Both are superficially comedies that mask deeply serious ambitions. Neither offers a classic emotional experience (my preference), but couldn’t be called dry or bloodless by any stretch.
I think I basically need to reread this in about 10 years.