So, book challenge #3 has been completed. The Brothers Karamazov has joined War and Peace and Infinite Jest on the list of conquered unreadable books. There will be another post answering the seminal question of whether everything you need to know is contained within its pages, as asserted by Kurt Vonnegut.
For now, a few thoughts.
This is the best of the books we have read in this series. I say this for a couple of reasons. The most important is that the book is funny. At times, it is laugh-out-loud funny. Mostly you hear how dark and depressing Doestovsky is, but his humor is underrated. That includes broad humor, physical humor, ironic humor, the whole gamut. He has an eye for the ridiculous.
It is also a book that is relevant to our times. You can feel perfectly comfortable in its pages with very little transliteration. Much of the action comes out of Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, the trial at the end is right out of the Seinfeld finale. The addiction to sensual pleasures and the prevalence of false piety and pseudo-intellectualism come right out of our newspapers.
Lastly, the book can be read on many different levels. At one level, it is a crime procedural. It can be also read as farce, tragedy, as a spiritual primer, as a psychological textbook or social commentary. You can slice this book however you like.
But, one thing can’t be lost. War and Peace was about history–the role that people played in creating history…and then it was about free will. The Brothers Karamazov is about psychology. Why do people do what they do? How do they become so fucked up? What is the relationship between everyday human life and true, pure spirituality?
The story is also strong and easier to follow than War and Peace. The characters are easier to follow, once you break the code of all the Russian nicknames. The serialized format actually helps a reader by providing shorter sections and occasional summaries, which provide the same conveniences to a modern reader that I suspect they did to a Russian reader in the 1880s.
It’s way better than Infinite Jest. We’re not even going there. The books do not belong in the same paragraph.
I honestly would recommend this book to someone looking for a challenging read. Barb and I have discussed that we might read it again because we suspect it is the kind of book that would reveal many clues and nuance on a second reading when you have a better idea what to expect.
This is a work of true brilliance. Its understanding of the human condition is unfailing. Dostoevsky saw the world as it was and, it turns out, still is…and probably always will be. Because of that–and because it is a pleasure to read–this is a book for any book lover.