Friday, August 30, 2013

The Brothers Karamazov

I took a good two weeks to stagger through this story that spreads in tiny font over 936 pages. Usually, this would annoy me, even affect my opinion of the book, unless the length is clearly excusable (like in Harry Potter!). You know the writing advice that goes, 'Every sentence should either advance the story or reveal the character'? So much of those pages were simply Dostoevsky's ramblings, really, repetitive details or lengthy character speeches that were just the author's own musings spoken through their mouths. But I loved every page. How could I not when it started off with an adorable introduction to the reader apologizing for his book's long length?

Dostoevsky's life was dark and dramatic. His outspoken writing led him to prison, where he was given insane silent treatment, the kind where even his guards wore velvet shoes. He suffered years of hard labour in Siberia strewn with epileptic attacks. The fact that he came out of these horrifying experiences with the strength and mental ability to pen down master-pieces drained in powerful thought makes me respect his work and appreciate it tenfold.

The Brothers Karamazov revolves around three brothers who come from a broken family and grow to be individuals tormented by questions that our universe has forever struggled with: about God, man, the truth and the mystery of existence. Unfortunate events happen, ones that the three brothers find themselves entangled in, and ones where their answers to these questions play important roles.

There is very much fuel for thought in almost every chapter, but there are two bits I came across that especially appealed to me.

One was a Russian fairy-tale one of the main characters- Grushenka- tells the story's hero Alyosha:

Once upon a time there lived a nasty, very horrible, old woman. And she died and did not leave a single good deed behind. The devils caught her and plunged her into the lake of fire. So her guardian angel stood and wondered what good deed of hers he could remember to tell to God; ‘She once pulled up an onion in her garden,’ said he, ‘and gave it to a beggar woman.’ And God answered: ‘You take that onion then, hold it out to her in the lake, and let her take hold and be pulled out. And if you can pull her out of the lake, let her come to Paradise, but if the onion breaks, then the woman must stay where she is.’ The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her. ‘Come,’ said he, ‘catch hold and I’ll pull you out.’ he began cautiously pulling her out. He had just pulled her right out, when the other sinners in the lake, seeing how she was being drawn out, began catching hold of her so as to be pulled out with her. But she was a very wicked woman and she began kicking them. ‘I’m to be pulled out, not you. It’s my onion, not yours.’ As soon as she said that, the onion broke. And the woman fell into the lake and she is burning there to this day. So the angel wept and went away.
The other was the dying speech of an elder from the monastery:
Much is hidden from us on earth but as compensation, we have been given a mysterious, sacred sense of a living bond with another world, with a lofty and superior world; and indeed, the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not in the earth but in other worlds. That is why philosophers say it is impossible for us on earth to grasp the essence of things. God took the seeds of other worlds and sowed them on this earth and they sprouted in His garden; everything that could grow, did. And all that has grown remains alive and lives by its awareness of its ties to other, mysterious worlds, and if that awareness weakens or dies in you, then all that has grown within you will also die. And you will become indifferent to life, will even come to hate it. 
Have you ever had anybody ask you to prove that God exists by asking you to show God to them?
How absurd is that.
Will the limitless power, the source of everything that is and can be, so immense and beyond our limited minds to comprehend, be a simple physical form, for your only human senses to see, touch and hear?

I am all for the questioning of beliefs and the freedom of thought, but nothing gets to me more than attempts to do away with the mystery of our universe and to reduce us spiritual beings to mere physical ones of skin, bones and nerves. In the words of Walter Miller Jr, 'I don't have a soul. I am a soul. I have a body.'

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I am writing this book-review as part of my contribution to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse- a cyber book-club started by The Armchair Squid.



20 comments:

  1. I love all kinds of fairy tales and this (although it seems to be quite long-winded) would hold my interest. Thanks for the recommendation.

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  2. I'll keep this one in mind although it does sound rather long.

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  3. I love your last line, and this looks like a book you would read over time, slowly, to get all the nuances. A book on the bedside table, to be read in complete quiet. Loved your review.

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  4. I agree with Yolanda, this is one I'd read in small segments. Perfect for the bedside table.
    Enjoyed your review and it's nice to meet you through the Coffeehouse!

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  5. I will probably take for ever to read this book. I have problem remembering fiction books that are long. I made a mistake of putting off reading for pleasure while raising kids. Now that my kids are grown up, I am getting problems with my memory ie I don't remember things that are not pertaining to my own family. If I see it in the library I might borrow it and try to read and retain as the review sounds really nice. Thanks!

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  6. I read "Crime and Punishment" for high school but (shh, don't tell!) never actually finished it. Dostoevsky is definitely wordy - thought provoking, but wordy. I've always been curious about The Bros. K, a good summer read for some day.

    I'm so glad you're joining us! Have a great weekend.

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  7. Dostoevsky always bathes one in sorrow.

    Long ago I read a wonderful short story by Walter Miller, Jr. called "Dark Benediction" about an alien plague and the what being human really means. It's worth reading if you can find it.

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    1. I am adding that to my 'to-read' on goodreads, thanks for the recommendation :)

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  8. "So much of those pages were simply Dostoevsky's ramblings, really, repetitive details or lengthy character speeches that were just the author's own musings spoken through their mouths." Welcome to 19th-century literature! And especially the Russian kind. I'm so glad you loved it: I really loved Crime & Punishment, much to my surprise. Have you read The Brothers K, by David James Duncan? I haven't, but it's on my shelf: highly recommended by a picky-reader friend, and a good follow up to Dostoevsky, I'd think.

    "Have you ever had anybody ask you to prove that God exists by asking you to show God to them?
    How absurd is that." Yes, that would be absurd. I'm an atheist, and it's never occurred to me to ask a believer to "prove" God exists in any way, much less physically.

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    1. Hehe yes, the editor-less 19th century novels! I loved 'Crime and Punishment' too, in fact, more than this one. And no, I haven't read Duncan's 'The Brothers K' but adding that to my goodread's 'to-read' :)

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  9. You read The Brother's Karamazov! Jeesh. That is exemplary. I read it in a Russian lit class long ago. I was almost dead after taking that class; it was a huge mind-suck. Don't think I could do it again, but I'm glad I did it then.

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  10. Russian novels can be difficult. The best way for me is to read them a little at a time and not give up. Then there are all the names which turn out to be the same person. But the questions asked are universal which is why we are reading these books so many years later. And the translator is so important, some are not very good. Your review is excellent, kudos!

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    1. Do you read them in Russian? I'm sure much is lost in translation.

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  11. "Have you ever had anybody ask you to prove that God exists by asking you to show God to them?
    How absurd is that.
    Will the limitless power, the source of everything that is and can be, so immense and beyond our limited minds to comprehend, be a simple physical form, for your only human senses to see, touch and hear?"
    - that's just PRICELESS, Ghadeer, really. How do you word things perfectly, succintly? I want to quote you so much now. I'm probably going to run around practically begging people to challenge me x)

    And yeah, truthfully, 936 pages seems like a little too much for me to swallow right now, but I will honestly keep it in mind for a 'some day' - those two passages you shared won me over (:

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  12. So many consider this writer one of the best in history. I haven't read this but intend to. Love the excerpt.

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  13. I grew up in Romania, a country that shared a border with the USSR. Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, were big in our culture and libraries. I wanted to Dostoevsky simply because the librarians said his writing was not age appropriate. The forbidden fruit. Then I grew up and fell in love with his writing --the drama, the hurt ... how can one man hurt so much. When I reread him later (this time in English), it didn't feel the same, maybe because I was looking at the story with a critical eye -- too much exposition (and boy, does he ramble), etc. etc.

    I think he is meant to be read simply for the love of reading.

    Excellent pots. Great writing.

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  14. The Russian fairy tale was interesting to read because it depicted how evil people can have guardian angels, and yet how these angels can't help a truly evil person who self destructs.

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  15. I haven't read any of these Russian authors that have penned such classic works, but I really want to. So I'm adding this one to my TBR.

    However, I must say that I'm one of those who believes we're just flesh and blood - even if we have amazing brains. I don't try to convert anyone else to my belief, though, and appreciate it when nobody tries to convince me I'm wrong either.

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  16. This is a great review. Thank you for taking time to read this classic - and for sharing your own, brilliant thoughts.

    Yep - You are a Soul - a Great One.
    Love & Love

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  17. Wow this was so interesting! Especially the last few lines. Loved it!!

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