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The Brothers Karamazov, Book Ten: A boy and his dog

MV5BMmMwNGY0OGItYzg5MS00OGY5LWJkMTYtZmVhMjczMmJkMmVjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzU1NzE3NTg@._V1_CR0,45,480,270_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_So we are moving along in the story. Dimitry was being questioned about the MURDER of his father and then we get to the next book where….wait what? We seem to be taking a step back in the action.

A while back in the book, some kid bit Alyosha’s finger – well he (Ilyusha) and Alyosha are back, along with the kid who got stabbed in the leg with a knife (Kolya). With all the other stuff going on in the book this seems somewhat random. However, it can’t be, right?

I think this section is about a bunch of things, one is forgiveness. Alyosha worked at getting Kolya to visit the sick boy because the two boys had a falling out. It was kind of a Mean Girls situation, but with 1800’s Russian schoolboys. Kolya brings his dog with him that does a bunch of tricks – that delight all of the people assembled, especially Ilyusha (the sick boy). Kolya realizes that he might have been a bit harsh in freezing out the sick boy from his circle of friends. Also, Aloysha basically rallys the kids around the bedside, after they all were pretty mean to him.

The other interesting thing about this section is that the young rascal Kolya has some pretty strong views on politics and the world. He proclaims himself as a “socialist” and has a conversation with his friend, Smurov:

‘There’s nothing funny about it, it’s just you don’t understand it. Nothing in nature’s funny, however it may seem to man, with his prejudices. If dogs could reason and criticize, I’m sure they’d find plenty that would seem funny to them, to say the least, in the social relationships between people, their masters—even more than funny, I should say, because I’m firmly convinced that we’re by far the more foolish. That’s an idea of Rakitin’s, a remarkable idea. I’m a socialist, Smurov.’ ‘What’s a socialist?’ asked Smurov. ‘It’s when everyone’s equal, all goods are owned in common, there’s no marriage, and religion and all the laws are whatever anyone fancies, and so on and so forth. You’re still too young for that, you’re not old enough.

It seems to me that Dostoyevsky is sorta mocking this line of thinking. There is a push-pull in the book between forward progress and ideas and old-school thinking. I think by having a 14 year old boy the the poster child for the progressive view, Dostoyevsky shows that he doesn’t think very highly of it.

As an aside, there was a little line that cracked me up:

Whenever he met another dog, they would indulge in unusually enthusiastic mutual sniffing, in accordance with all the rules of canine social etiquette.

This is totally true, right? It made me chuckle.

On to the next part!

 

Book 10: The Power of Contrast

circleSo, Book 9 was all about Dmitri.  We see him being questioned by the investigators in the death of his father.  His battle with the investigators is over the circumstantial evidence of his guilt–but it really is a reckoning with how he has lived his life.  Every part of the story has burst from the chaos that is the wanton and immoral life that Dmitri has chosen to live.  Unlike Dmitry, we cannot help but see:  you will reap the fruit of the seeds you sow.

Book Ten is very interesting, in that it seems to have no place in the book.  Plot-wise, we were driving forward.  Now, 680 pages in, we finally get to the meat of the story–the death of the Karamazov father.  What happens in the next Chapter?  We pick up a subplot line where no one mentions anything about the murder.  Instead, we are at the sick bed of a child, and we learn about the internal politics of teenage bullies in Russia.

There does seem to be a point, though.  It’s the power of contrast.  We see how Dmitri was living his life.  In this section, we see the type of man Aloysha is.  He’s all the whiter for the darkness of Book 9.

Aloysha has been organizing the children to visit the sick child every day.  He has accompanied them as well.  He has also successfully encouraged one particular young man to make his first visit.  There is a heartwarming scene with a canine reunion.  Aloysha is a veritable Father Flanagan to these young men.  They note that he doesn’t talk down to them or insult them.

Not to put too fine a point on it but Dmitri spends his time stealing 3,000 roubles to chase Grushenka and plying the peasants with food and wine, while Aloysha was taking teenage miscreants to the sickbed of an ailing/dying child.

I assume that we have the big trial coming up next, which promises more of the dark side of the story and the family.  I think Doestevsky wanted to take a second before that starts to show that alternate paths do exist, even people who are cursed with the same genes and the same family.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

22450859I took a trip (practicing highway driving) to the local Books a Million (bookstores here are not as plentiful as they were back in Toronto). This book was on sale and I was like….boom. Or BAM since I was in Books a Million (see what I did there).

I was a huge fan of The Red Tent (Diamant’s first book) so I wanted to check this out. Obviously the time period was different: biblical times vs. 1900’s Boston. However, the subject matter was similar, in a way.

Obviously this book is about a “Boston Girl”. It’s the story of Addie Baum. She is the daughter of Jewish immigrants, and the only one of her siblings to be born in America. The story is told from Addie’s point of view – as she is telling her life story to her granddaughter.

Addie is sassy and smart and funny. I really felt for her and the hardships that she faced throughout her life. This book really struck home to me how much different things were, not that long ago.

I guess this is a coming of age story, but it’s more than that. How does your heritage form your growth and development? How does family do that? I think that the author did a good job of posing those questions.

This book is also about female empowerment. In a lot of ways Addie is a trailblazer: from wanting to have an education, not being obsessed with getting a husband, and wanting to make her own life. This is also about the power of friendships – those people who are close to us proximity-wise, and those friends who aren’t, but are just as close and important to us.

If you are going to read this expecting The Red Tent, you are going to be disappointed. But if you want an interesting and engaging read, and want to meet a sassy and funny lady, then this is for you.

I rated this 4/5 stars on Goodreads.

Election Day Political Books

So it’s Election Day, and I’m hoping that most of you are voting today or already have.  Either way, it’s a good time to review some of my favorite political novels.

There are a lot, but I wanted to highlight four that you may or may not be familiar with.

AdviseandConsent1stEdAdvise and Consent by Alan Drury is a classic.  It is the inside story of  (wait for it) a confirmation battle in the US Senate for a nominee for Secretary of State.  Obviously timely, it was referenced on occasion during the recent Kavanaugh fight.  It is an excellent book. that shows us that cutthroat and ruthless personal politics didn’t start with the Trumps or the Clintons or the Bushes.  It won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a movie with Henry Fonda.

 

TheLastHurrahA second book that is also well known is The Last Hurrah.  It is the story of Frank Skeffington, an old-school ward politician who runs one last time, only to find out that the world has changed when he wasn’t paying attention.  It contains an interesting bit of policy analysis (kind of) about how the New Deal changed the business of ward healers, who had formerly provided assistance to the needy…for a price.  This book was made into a Spencer Tracy movie.

GayplacesmallThe third book is nearly unknown.  It is by Billy Lee Bratton and is considered by many to be the best political novel ever written.  It’s called The Gay Place and it contains three novellas set in Texas in the orbit of an LBJ/Huey Long-like figure and in the era of “Beef, Booze and Blondes” politics in Austin.  It is indeed a great book that shows the political life in the most real sense…how power and personality shape the politics, not policy.

Here’s my favorite quote:

The truly able, it appeared, had only so much time to squander on disillusion and self-analysis. Then those destructive vanities were turned round and put to the business of doing what had got to be done. The truly gifted, as opposed to the merely clever, were too busy running things to be bothered.

sundayThe fourth is a little lighter and has won no awards.  It’s called the Sunday Macaroni Club…and it’s a delightful book that tells the story of a corrupt Philadelphia politician and one of his particular henchmen.  If you have been in politics, you know this guy.  It’s funny and it’s true.  Great beach read.

Oh, I forgot All the King’s Men.  And probably a bunch of other ones.  But for today, there’s your reading list.

Book Review Catch Up: 3 for 1

I got a bit behind in my blogging and book reviewing. You know, life got in the way. But, I am back baby!

I thought I would do a few posts with some mini-reviews of the books that I read over the summer.

immortThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

I picked this book up on my first foray to the local library. It got a lot of press and was on a bunch of ‘must read’ lists for the summer. So I figured, why not.

The story is about Gold family, who live in New York City. When they were kids, the 4 Gold children hear about a travelling psyhcic who claims to be able to tell you the date you will die. They go and visit. They don’t really talk about it. Naturally they are skeptical.

This story is about what happens when you know when your last day on earth will be. Will you live life to the fullest? Will you buy into the date and make sure it’s your last day?

I liked this book. It definitely kept me guessing as to what was going to happen next. It was a bit sad, I mean, the book basically deals with the imminent death of the characters. However, it was well written and engaging.

I rated it 4/5 stars on Goodreads.


mansell

The One You Really Want by Jill Mansell

As my husband says, this was what was advertised on the tin. When you pick up a Jill Mansell book you are looking for an easy and fun read. This is what you get here.

For me, it ended up being about friendships – unlikely friendships – and how important it is to have a support system.

It was fun and entertaining. If you are looking for light and fun, this is a read for you.

I  rated it 3/5 stars on Goodreads.


wolitzerThe Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

I had read another novel of hers, The Interestings, and enjoyed it. So I thought I would pick this one up at the local library. Also, there was a lot..A LOT of press and stuff about this when it was released.

So I struggled a bit with this book. I mean, I liked it. I think that it was an interesting premise. But somehow I felt sort of manipulated by the plot. I don’t really know how to explain it other than that.

The book is about what it means to be a feminist, about the dangers of idolizing people and how to find your way in the world. There were parts that were insightful. But there were parts that seemed typical.

I think it’s worth a read.

I rated this 4/5 stars on Goodreads.


 

Karamazov Brothers, Book 9: You’re out of order

no-youre-out-of-order-this-whole-damn-courtrooms-out-of-orderAs we knew from the end of the last book, Dimitry is being accused of…..MURDER-ing his father. This part reminded me of the courtroom scene in And Justice for All. It’s kinda chaotic. Dimitry vacillates between being lucid and cooperating with the investigators and then becomes either withdrawn or belligerent and won’t answer certain questions. Mostly he doesn’t want to disclose where he got the alleged 3,000 roubles he has been talking to literally everyone about. If he was on social media back then he would have 100 posts on Instagram posing with all the cash.

Dostevysky continues to show his mastery of storytelling in this section. Just when you are sick of hearing Dimitry get grilled, he switches to an interrogation with another person with less detail and acknowledges that he will have less detail to spare the reader (the man knows his audience).

What I am finding more and more fascinating, is the depth of the novel. One of the reasons we chose this was because Kurt Vonnegut said that all you need to know about life is in this book. And you know what, I don’t think he was wrong.

Dostoyvesky has these…I’ll call them throwaway lines – lines of dialogue or of thought that are jammed into the middle of other things. And they are brilliant, but innocuous (or at least to me they are). I’ve noticed a few before and didn’t think too much about it. This is the one that caught my eye in this section, Dimitry is speaking:

‘Yes, I see it as a fateful distinction! Anyone can be a scoundrel—and, come to think of it, everyone is—but not anyone can be a thief, it takes an arch-scoundrel to be a thief. All right, let’s not split hairs… It’s just that a thief is more scurrilous than a scoundrel.

I mean, it’s brilliant. The sentiment is  simple but true – anyone can be an ass, but not everyone can stoop to be a thief. But it’s also not forcing a lesson down your throat. I feel like if Tolstoy had wanted to make the same point, he would have spent 100 pages rhapsodizing about it and there would have been a vista and a battle taking place.

The other thing is, and what I find fascinating, is that we knew all this stuff was going to happen. Dimitry mentioned many times about killing his father, had a reputation for being hot-headed, talked about stealing his father’s money. But when he is accused, it does come as a surprise. That’s what is brilliant. It’s almost like, yeah, he talked about it but I didn’t think he would actually do it. (Also, as an aside, he has yet to be convicted of the actual murder.)

Anyway, this continues to be an entertaining and wild ride. On to the next part!

Dmitry Faces the Music

lanoire_detectivesartworkAfter the non-stop, rollicking action of the last section, Dostoevsky clearly felt that he had to pull back on the throttle a little bit and give the reader a break.

In this section, Dmitry is questioned by the prosecutors who are investigating his Father’s murder.  This is no easy task.  It has already been established that Dmitry is impulsive and wild…crazy, most would say.  Add to that the fact that he almost certainly DID kill his Father and every piece of evidence is 100% incriminating, and Dmitry’s mind is hopping around like an exposed wire.

First, he is informed by the prosecutors that he doesn’t have to answer any questions. You have to figure that they sort of wished he would take that route, because unlike many interrogations where the criminal snarls “you can’t make me talk, copper,” Dmitry is more than willing to talk and talk and talk.  And talk.

You have to give the investigators credit, because they doggedly pursue their questioning.  The key issue is one we noted when reading…how exactly did Dmitry go from pawning his guns for 10 roubles and then all of a sudden have 3,000 roubles to throw the party of the century?  And, there’s an empty envelope in the father’s room which formerly held 3,000 roubles?

Dmitry is working all his faculties.  He claims it wasn’t 3,000 roubles but was actually 1,500 roubles and that he had just been boasting about having 3,000.

This section is a little trying.  We are talking a minute examination of Dmitry.  There’s a section where he says he had a purse around his neck and the prosecutors are trying to catch him in a lie.  And they work every detail of that purse.  Where did you get the cloth?  What did you do with it?  Where did you get the needle and thread?

Even inside this tedium, though, the picture between these investigatory bureaucrats ridiculously trying to make sense of the ludicrous story Dmitry is making up as he goes along is pretty funny.

The outright funniest scene is when the investigators inform Dmitry that they will have to strip search him to make sure that he doesn’t have the remainder of the money on him.  Dmitry is trying to present himself as an officer and a gentleman and takes great umbrage at this.  He doesn’t end up totally stripped, but he is standing in front of the investigators and some average citizens in his underwear, wishing he had put a clean pair on that morning.

The second thing is really interesting.  A slight diversion…in listening to the latest episodes of Serial, they mention how defendants in the court are treated differently once they have a prior arrest–it is referred to as having “the stink” on you.

Well, you can see that here.  Dmitry arrives in style, in a carriage, followed by another carriage filled with champagne and fancy snacks.  Now, he leaves in the equivalent of a wheelbarrow.  When he arrived, he was treated…well…like a man bringing free liqour…and he leaves being treated like…well…a man who is suspected of killing his Father.

Dostoevsky is clearly a master of the human condition.  One of the things he has accurately captured is how people can love you, and then something happens and they can instantly switch to “I never liked him anyway.”  Dmitry is one example and the putrefying Starets is another.

On we go.