Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How Reading The Brothers Karamazov is Like Driving From New York to Los Angeles


As I elaborated here, The Brothers Karamazov presents Fyodor Dostoevsky’s grand theory on God’s design of the Universe. As I also explained, Dostoevsky’s views are not at all compatible with my own as to the reality of existence. Yet, I love this book. It is no understatement to call it a sublime artistic achievement. In fact I would classify it as one of the finest works ever written.

At eight hundred pages, this is a big book. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the buffoonish and immoral Fyodor Karamazov is father to four sons. Alyosha Karamazov is the pious and saintly youngest son. Ivan Karamazov is an intellectual atheist and sometimes a nihilist. Dmitri Karamazov, the eldest son, is hard drinking, wild spending and lives life on the edge. Pavel Smerdyakov is an illegitimate son who is depressed and resentful. Agrafena Svetlovais (Grusha) a fickle young woman that Dmitri and his father fight over. There are numerous additional characters and connections. When Smerdyakov murders his father, Dmitri is falsely accused of the crime and a trial ensues. 

Dostoevsky has fashioned a work that contains some of the most dynamic and interesting characters who ever lived on paper. His writing style, at least as far as I can tell through the filter of translation, is amazingly inventive and aesthetically pleasing. The book was often hilarious when it was not tragic. The plot is extremely engaging. The novel consists of pages and pages of insights into human psychology and character, some of which are extremely perceptive as well as ahead of their time. Finally, the book is full of philosophical musings on the nature of reality that I, as I point out above, believe to be absolutely incorrect, but that is presented in a marvelous fashion.

I kind of feel the following way about the book. I got into a car with a friend in New York with the intention of driving to Los Angeles. We spent weeks on road and drove thousands of miles. We met dozens of interesting people along the way. We explored cities, towns and natural features that I never knew existed. We had great conversations with each other as well as with the multitude and diverse set of characters that we encountered along the way. I learned all sorts of things about the world and even a little bit about myself. In addition to all this, we laughed an awful lot during the trip. It turns out that my friend was never good at reading maps. After driving all this time and distance we never made it to Los Angeles, in fact, we were so far off our route we ended up in Hoboken, New Jersey. However, I cannot help thinking that had we arrived at our original intended destination the arrival might have actually have distracted me from the benefits and wonders of the journey.

Though we never made it to Los Angeles, if someone were to ask me whether or not the trip was worth it, whether or not I had a great time, whether or not I learned anything or whether or not I was changed by the journey, the answer would be so obvious that I need not even reply.

More to come on this novel.

23 comments:

Richard said...

I'm encouraged to hear your opinion of this novel because even though I'd like to read it, I've heard more than a few bloggers I also trust say that it was a big and unwieldy bore for them. D's "Demons" was such a big and unwieldy bore for me that I gave up on it about 50 pages before the ending and haven't returned to it yet. By the way, I loved your travel analogy but suspect L.A. would be a much better destination for most folks than Hoboken!

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Richard - I read Demons. I did like it but as I recall in many ways it was very different from this book. I remember it having interesting but less complex characters. This is a long book and has lots of pages of dialog and digressions.


One best goes in it intending to take their time.

As for Hoboken:

According to Wikipedia - "The first officially recorded game of baseball took place in Hoboken in 1846 between Knickerbocker Club and New York Nine at Elysian Fields In 1845"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoboken,_New_Jersey#Birthplace_of_baseball

Suko said...

It sounds like this book took you on a very interesting and unpredictable journey, which included numerous side trips. As for Hoboken, this picturesque place is also Frank Sinatra's birthplace, as well as the location of Carlo's Bake Shop.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Suko -Way to go standing up for Hoboken!

Sharon Henning said...

I'm glad you liked the book because it's one of my favorites. I believe it's planted seeds in you that will germinate. I love books that do that to me. Take care!

Sharon Henning said...

I meant to add that I also read "Demons". I liked it a lot although in many ways it was much more depressing but I think Dostoevsky was trying to alarm his readers into looking around them and see where their country was headed. I just didn't realize how early the communist ideals developing in Russia.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Sharon - Indeed a work like this does lead to later fruitful harvests!

I agree about Demons.I first read it years ago as an assignment for a Russian history class I was taking. I remember writing a paper that focused on how Russian Nineteenth century radicals influenced their twentieth century counterparts.

I do remember that novel being very depressing.

Lucy said...

I love this post! I completely agree with your praise of the book - it also being one of my favourite pieces of literature - and I love the analogy you've used. The Brothers Karamazov is a book than can teach us so much about our own lives, or help us to understand both situations and people that little bit better.

Brian Joseph said...

i Lucy - Thanks so much.

I think that one reason that this book is a such a great teacher about people is that the characters seem to be so very real. More so then in almost every other piece of literature.

Naida said...

Great post Brian! I have yet to read Dostoevsky but I like the comparison you have used here. I think the unexpected sometimes is what was meant to happen all along.
Happy reading and happy Friday.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Naida - For me the joy of the journey is usually what I do expect. However this was an exceptional trip!

Have a great weekend!

Guy Savage said...

I loved Demons (one of the best books I've read) but I had to recover from it. I felt as though I was dragged into this very dark place and needed rehab. Part of it was the slow dread from the murder that I knew would happen. And this is coming from someone who reads a lot of crime.

How far along are you?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Guy - Agreed about the effects of Demons.

One might describe that book as a ride though the deep Louisiana Bayou!

Caroline said...

I like your travel story.
The longest Dostojevsky I've read was Crime and Punishment and that was such a quick read. Both my parents have read almost all of his work and I've never heard them mentioning any of it was boring.
I'll be reading this, once I get to it in a French translation. I really don't know how well Russian translated to English or FRench or any other language.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Caroline - Translation is always an issue especially when it comes to Russian. I spent a little time on researching what would be the best translation of this book.

There are a multitude of strong opinions out there as to who is the best English translator of of Dostoevsky. I settled on the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky version as they seemed to take such great pains to capture the essence of the works.

In his introductory essay to this book, Pevear described just ho complex and subtle was Dostoevsky’s style in this work and the corresponding challenges involved in translation.

Pevear argues that Dostoevsky attempted to imitate an inexperienced writer throughout much of this work. In other parts he would lapse into the voice of a character, but sometimes only partially so. Pevear explained how he and Volokhonsky attempted to convey all this in translation.

....Petty Witter said...

A work that contains some of the most dynamic and interesting characters who ever lived on paper. Wow, you don't get a better recommendation than this.

Great post, thanks.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Petty - Indeed this is one of the all time greats I think.

Heidi’sbooks said...

I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and reviews of this book. It's on my shelf--ready for reading. I needed a little break after Crime and Punishment. I so look forward to reading The Brothers K now. I'm currently reading some fluffy summer stuff, and also tackling David Copperfield. But, truly I've been surprised by the Russian authors I've read over the past 2 years. Why did I never read any of this in college?

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Heidi - The only Russian novel that I read in collage was actually Dostoevsky’s The Demons. Even today, I have only read a scant amount of Russian literature. I really need to get to Crime and Punishment.

argumentativeoldgit said...

I've long had a love-hate relationship with Dostoyevsky, and I think I love him more than I hate him. There's so much in his novels that, frankly, just doesn't make sense. he is a law unto himself. I could compile a list of all that is wrong with his novels... and yet, scenes and chaarcters and moments from his novels are lodged firmly in the mind when more "perfect" novels are all but forgotten. I can't figure it out, to be frank... He is a maddening writer worth being maddened by.

Brian Joseph said...

Hi Hi Himadri - Good point about a lot of things not making sense. But one thing for me is how, at least in this novel he managed to craft such deep and realistic personas yet create a work that was ultimately as fun as it was serious.

Maria Behar said...

I can see that this novel has had a great impact on you! You have dedicated several posts to it, which I think is totally necessary for a novel of this length and depth. One post cannot possibly cover even part of the richness contained in this work!

From your comments, I see that this novel certainly requires some thought, along with immersion in the plot. That's typical of Russian novelists, especially Dostoevsky, and makes their works that much more fascinating!

Thanks for all these posts! They are very interesting!! : )

Brian Joseph said...

As always, thanks for your kind words Maria.

Indeed this one was so big sand important that I decided to write three posts. In addition I never tried to wrap arms around the entire work, I just really tried to talk about three subjects that I found interesting.