Challenge #12: The Brothers Karamazov

In many ways, The Brothers Karamazov reminded me of Les Miserables.   Both books delve into the best and worst of humanity, explore deep questions through soliloquies, and show the social dynamics of mid-19th century Europe. I’d also like to point out that they also both involve some courtroom drama.   Unlike Victor Hugo with Les Miserables, Dostoyevsky doesn’t interrupt his story now and then for long sections of historical and geographical information.  He does, however, like to go in depth on the backgrounds of his characters, even if they play a minor role.  It may break the flow of the story a bit, but it’s forgivable.

In his fervent prayer he did not beseech God to lighten his darkness but only thirsted for the joyous emotion, which always visited his soul after the praise and adoration, of which his evening prayer usually consisted.

Of all the characters I was the most intrigued by the brothers Ivan and Alyosha.  Ivan, the older brother, is an intelligent gentleman.  What he has to say is insightful and interesting, if a little lengthy.  Yet he is frequently frustrated with himself, others, and the world around him. Even with all his cleverness, he is a man without an anchor, and that lack weighs heavily on him.   The younger brother, Alyosha, is a novice in the local monastery, and a dear.   He was constantly striving to see the best in all people, to reach them at their level.   Love is his anchor, and he holds on to it throughout the book.  I realise that some may consider him ‘too good’, but I thought his virtue refreshing to read about.  One of the most fascinating scenes in the book is a meeting between these two brothers.  Ivan recites a thought-provoking but long and complicated piece.  Alyosha’s response is a single action- simple, but on point.

 That was why Alyosha’s heart was bleeding, and, of course, as I have said already, the sting of it all was that the man he loved above everything on earth should be put to shame and humiliated! This murmuring may have been shallow and unreasonable in my hero, but I repeat again for the third time—and am prepared to admit that it might be difficult to defend my feeling—I am glad that my hero showed himself not too reasonable at that moment, for any man of sense will always come back to reason in time, but, if love does not gain the upper hand in a boy’s heart at such an exceptional moment, when will it? 

I was dissatisfied with the conclusion, however.  Certain characters, in which I had invested so much, are left with ambiguous fates.  The book hints at what might happen to them, but it is like saying ‘they should be fine….I hope’.  The story ends on a happier note as Alyosha gives an inspiring speech to his young friends, but even that fell short in my opinion.  Whereas I felt Les Miserables’ hero Jean ValJean focused on penitence so much that I feared he neglected joy and grace, it seemed to me that The Brothers Karamazov’s hero Alyosha had a certain sentimentalism that provided contrast for the darkness around him, but didn’t quite answer it.

for man seeks not so much God as the miraculous

I did have a few other issues aside from the ending, but none of them overshadow the book as a whole.  The Brothers Karamazov is a good story, large and meaty.  To quote the end of the book: “Hurrah for Karamazov!”



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