At the beginning of June, I began The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky — my sixth reading challenge selection for 2016. My older brother, Tom, had given me a list of several books that he recommended, and from that list I chose The Brothers Karamazov. I have read many works of classic literature over the years, but I had neglected to read any of the famous Russian novels. I knew that by selecting a Dostoevsky as Tom’s choice, I would begin to correct this oversight.
Despite my enthusiasm for taking on this nearly 800-page tome, I struggled to get into the novel. The summer break from teaching usually affords me the time to fly through books, but I had trouble focusing on this one. This is no fault of Dostoevsky, however; I blame pregnancy brain. I would nod off after only a handful of pages, or I would have to reread pages read the day before because I simply could not remember what had happened or what had been said (probably due to the frequent nodding off). These reading behaviors are highly unusual for me during a break from work, so I suspect they had more to do with me being eight months pregnant than anything else. At one point I strongly considered putting the novel aside and trying again later in the year, but I worried that I would never get back to it if I did. So I soldiered on, and after the first 200 pages or so I fell more into a rhythm with the book and made slow-but-steady progress. It still took me halfway into July before I finished The Brothers Karamazov, though!
The novel contains a number of lengthy monologues and explanations, but it is also packed with drama. Murder, suspicion, jealousy, betrayal, and love triangles all take center stage at various points in the plot. In addition, an element of humor can be found in Dostoevsky’s portrayal of human foibles, such as wealthy, middle-aged Madame Khokhlakov’s attempts at winning over/manipulating handsome young men. These elements add interest, intrigue, and readability to the novel.
I found myself wishing for more background knowledge on mid-19th-century Russian history as the book clearly confronts the political and religious movements of the time. In fact, The Brothers Karamazov is well-known for its discussion of religion and the existence of God, with the youngest Karamazov brother, Alyosha, representing the faithful believer in contrast to his doubting father and elder brothers. While I am far from a theological expert, I still found the religious discussions and debates among the characters fascinating.
Overall, I gave The Brothers Karamazov 4 stars on Goodreads. My interest level surged and waned at different points in the novel, but I recognize and respect the quality of the work. I doubt I ever attempt a reread, but I am glad to have experienced Dostoevsky’s masterpiece this once.