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The Brothers Karamazov: Part 1

The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Constance Garnett, Frederick Davidson Whew! This was a long, long book to listen to. I've never been a huge fan of Russian literature, and this book reminded me why. The Brothers Karamazov isn't so much a story as a lengthy disquisition on the Russian character and the issues of Dostoyevsky's day, detailed personality profiles, and digressions on every subject Dostoyevsky wanted to pursue, including free will, the existence of God, moral responsibility, and truth. It's a high-minded novel full of weighty intellectual themes and I could not help but appreciate the meticulous detail with which the author constructed every part of it from the events and familial and romantic relationships leading up to Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov's murder to the background histories of even the most minor characters. The problem is, Dostoyevsky spends entire chapters on things like the background histories of the most minor character. Half the book was one of the Karamazovs talking on and on uninterrupted to an audience as silent and passive as the reader/listener. At times, listening to this book felt like swimming across a very cold lake -- it's not particularly fun but you have to keep going if you want to get to the other side.

It was not fun or entertaining or exciting. But I gave it 4 stars. Why? Well, the skill of the author cannot be denied. The style is completely unlike modern literature, but Dostoyevsky makes every one of his characters so complex and complete that you wish more modern authors were as thorough (and indulged as much by their editors) in their creations. And you can sense the majesty of what Dostoyevsky was trying to accomplish -- he takes a bunch of different arguments and picks them apart from multiple points of view, letting the Karamazov brothers or secondary characters or even allegorical figures hash out everything the author is thinking (or arguing against) thoroughly and articulately.

So I guess that's a lot of words to say "It's Literature" (with the big pretentious capital 'L') -- you know, one of those Important Books everyone is supposed to read. I don't really feel anyone should force themselves to read books that don't interest them, but there is something to be said for knowing the books and the authors who influenced the other great authors who influenced whoever your favorite authors today are, and so I'm not sorry that I engaged with Dostoyevsky (the first time in many, many years) and now have The Brothers Karamazov on my mental bookshelf to refer to. It's not my usual thing and frankly, I don't even agree with most of what Dostoyevsky was saying (he was religious, and so much of the book is basically a defense for the existence of God), but it did give me a lot more to think about than the average novel that I might enjoy a lot more but is not really going to stick in my mind.

All that being said, of the 19th century authors I've been reading lately, so far I've enjoyed the Brits (Trollope, Austen) a lot more than the Russians (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky).