Considered One of the Greatest Novels for Good Reason

The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear

On the surface this novel could be read as a psychological thriller, family drama, and murder mystery--with enough of a twist to satisfy an Agatha Christie fan. It's rather beside the point though, and the reveal is hardly the climax of the book. This is after all one of the most celebrated works of not just Russian, but world literature, one of the candidates for greatest novel ever written. My introduction to Dostoyevsky was an excerpt from this novel, the chapter "The Grand Inquisitor." And not in a literature course, but a philosophy course, where it was used to raise issues about the nature of God and the problem of evil. It's the speech of (and a story by) the atheist Ivan Karamazov he tells to his devout brother Aloysha. And to give Dostoyevsky his due, he props up no straw man--it's a powerful indictment of God.

Not that I always appreciated the religious-themed passages. My Dostoyesky could go on and on... Those of you who complained about the speechifying in the novels by Russian-born Ayn Rand? The similarities in style are no accident--she was a fan of Dostoyevsky--certainly not of his philosophy, to which she was diametrically opposed, but of the way he wove such themes into plot and character. Sometimes I felt preached at in this novel--I particularly found the chapter on the sainted Zossima's teachings an unbearable slog, and by midpoint I decided to skip the rest of that chapter. Maybe some day I'll go back, but I rather doubt it. But believe me, that was the only part I skipped or wanted to skip. The eldest brother Mitya sometimes came across as too-stupid-to-live and the youngest Aloysha too goodie-goodie. And every female character was a drama queen--not that the men fare much better. But as long as the focus was on the brothers and their relationships with each other and their odious father, I was riveted. And certainly each of them were more engaging to follow through hundreds of pages than Raskolnikov, the monomaniacal and repulsive center of Dostoyevsky's <i>Crime and Punishment.</i> Certainly I'd be much more likely to read more of Doestoyevsky than Tolstoy, whose <i>War and Peace</i> bored me to tears (although I did rather relish <i>Anna Karinina.</i>) I do absolutely think <i>The Brothers Karamazov</i> lives up to its reputation as one of those great works everyone would learn a lot from being acquainted with--and an engrossing story as well.