The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky

My Copy: 9781566195546 (image scanned by me)

The Brothers Karamazov is Dostoevsky’s last work, and tells the story of four brothers (3 legitimate, 1 not) who have been raised apart most of their lives and come together back at home with their disgraceful father. At some point, the father is murdered, and one of these brothers has committed the crime, but who, and why?

Disclaimer: I couldn’t finish the book. I tried, but only got through 170 pages max out of 729.

Like usual, I have no problem with you taking this review with a grain of salt. I wanted to finish the book, I wanted to like it. I’ve never read Dostoevsky before and have had this book on my shelf for years. Well, I tried it…but when the hell was it going to get anywhere?

The style and the pacing were not my cup of tea by any stretch. I got confused while reading the SparkNotes online, for crying out loud, and I only got pulled them up to make sure I got the gist of what I’d already read…and help with the character names (some have a nickname they’re called, which was confusing at first).

And I HATE using SparkNotes or CliffsNotes. The book should speak for itself, but I found it so complicated trying to remember what was going on and who was who. Having to get out the cheaters made it strike one in my book. 

Now the characters felt very distinct from each other and led very different lives for the most part before returning to the family fold. I suppose one could put this partly up to a nature versus nurture argument. Indeed, Dostoevsky spends some time with the father saying “You are a Karamazov” to different brothers at different times, usually when things are going particularly well for them, or when things are just about to turn for the worst, as if he’s acknowledging (or wanting them to recognize) that they will be like their father somehow whether they want to or not.

So, Dostoevsky does a good job setting up his characters with their backstories so we can understand what the father is going on about and where the boys themselves are coming from…

And then he detours into some theological or philosophical discussion between them that slows things down. I hoped this would be a great book to give me some insight into Russian Orthodoxy and life under it before the revolution, but nope. It practically tried to cram some things down my throat that had very little context I could work with, and did it for pages and pages on end.

If I hadn’t read the introduction thoroughly before tackling this book, there’s no way I would’ve gotten as far as I did.

So there’s a character setup, and then it’s “okay, let’s take most of a chapter to discuss this bit of theology or injustice.” The common rule of writing most of us grew up with and got knocked into our heads was “show, don’t tell.” This feels more like a case of “gotcha” and back to characters discussing things instead of doing them.

I bet if I went a bit longer, the book would’ve gotten better…but I’ve lost my patience with it. I get that Dostoevsky, as a novelist, was probably writing his heart out about all the things he hoped for and his beliefs and philosophies (and using his characters as foils so as to get past any censorship or trouble with the church), but it was just too much. I could only wait so long for the plot to pick up, and I was confused with what little I’d already received.

I’ll give him another shot in the future with “Crime and Punishment,” but I’m donating this one. Just not my cup of tea this time.

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