The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)

This is probably the greatest work of fiction a human could achieve. Dostoyevsky bares his soul in this novel. He doesn’t hide behind irony, which allows an author the ability to maintain distance and ambiguity. And perhaps it is irony that separates the great novels of the past from the many contemporary novels that lack equivalent passion, honesty, and heft. The themes Dostoyevsky tackles along the way are significant and weighty. One thing that can overwhelm the modern reader is the morality here. The energy of it so intense.

When he begins to move the story forward, he frequently stops to write a few chapters of political or religious philosophy, and the reader is required to stop with him, digest what the arguments mean. Then you weigh in personally on which side of the debate truth lies. The book inspires soul searching, but requires almost inhuman concentration. This book has a profoundly Biblical effect on many readers, and I am one of them. You will discover many profound truths about life while supposedly reading a murder mystery. Dostoyevsky is not like modern authors who gloss over everything — his characters all do terrible things at various times. There are few purely good or evil people in his books; he is obsessed with examining all aspects of people, who they are within themselves and through society.

There is an interlude, The Grand Inquisitor, which is a story Ivan tells to explain what he hates about organized religion. This classic segment is frequently used as a short story in itself by literature and religion classes around the world. Three brothers, The Brothers Karamazov, each standing in for the profoundness that is the human condition: one representing the reckless way of living and thinking; another, selfishness and intellectual arrogance; and the third, timidity and religious belief. At the novel’s core is a contemptuous father, the absence of motherhood, and brothers who travel different courses in life, only to reunite as adults. There is love, betrayal, poverty, riches, death, murder, shame, good, bad, evil—you name it, the things we seek in novels because we come across them in life.

On another level, Dostoyevsky uses the book to express the conflicting parts of himself. He names the father with his own Christian name. He has the parts argue with each other and themselves, and tries to work out how they complement each other and what it all means, with the help of other characters who bring out those parts of him. I understand why this is considered an important work and a classic piece of literature. It addresses many important issues that have universal implications. What happens if you remove God from the equation? What purpose does faith serve in life? Does suffering lead to self-awareness and can it change a man for the better? To what extent are we morally responsible for others? If you wish a murder, if you fail to stop one, are you equally guilty with the man who commits the deed?

When I felt like giving up on TBK a passage like the one below would keep me going.

Fragments of thoughts floated through his soul, flashed like stars and went out again at once, to be succeeded by others. But yet there was reigning in his soul a sense of the wholeness of things—something steadfast and comforting.”

We all need a little encouragement to consume 795 pages. An audio book would be easier!



  1. I tied twice to read the Brother’s K and made it through half the book both times. Dostoyevsky said in the forward that many people can’t finish the book. Damn him for knowing!

    Liked by 2 people

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