Slip Inside The Eye Of Your Mind

Brothers KaramazovThe second novel I’ve read as part of my Classic Literature Challenge is The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous last novel.  Russian literature is fairly new to me (I’ve only ever read one other, The Idiot, also by Dostoevsky) but because of its considerable influence on authors around the globe (Christopher Hitchens, Franz Kafka, Albert Einstein, to name a few), I felt I owed it to myself as a lover of literature to give it a try.  And while certainly not quick or altogether easy, it is a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.

The book begins with the scoundrel Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov, a man of loose morals who has four sons between three different women, two of whom he married.  Both wives eventually died, leaving Pavlovitch to raise the boys they gave him, a task he passed off to relatives while he indulged in women and booze.  Little time is spent on their upbringing or on Pavlovitch’s misadventures.  The real story begins when the boys reach adulthood.  Dostoevsky tells every brother’s tale in turns, giving each their fair amount of time in the spotlight.  The oldest, Dmitri, enters into a doomed love triangle with his father and a disreputable woman whom one is never sure if she loves either father or son or is merely manipulating them both.  The middle son, Ivan, is a man of conviction and good sense and happens to fall in love with Dmitri’s ex-fiancee, the woman Dmitri scorned in favor of his father’s mistress.  And the youngest Karamazov, Alexey, is a kind, albeit naïve young man intent on entering the monastery.  Few who know him fail to love him, even Ivan, who is every bit as firm an atheist as Alexey is a true believer.  These two engage in long and interesting philosophical debates about their opposing views and while they add little to the book’s plot, they make for a provocative and entertaining read.  Fyodor Pavlovitch also has one illegitimate son, Smerdyakov, whose sad tale is told in detail and which plays a valuable role in the larger narrative.

With each of these men’s stories and that of a rather large subplot revolving around a young neighborhood boy, the son of a man Dmitri publicly shamed, who suddenly falls ill and seeks redemption in his final days from family and friends through Alexey, Dostoevsky paints a vivid picture of Russian life in the 19th century.  He explores themes and issues ranging from family to religion to social norms, even dipping a toe into political issues of the day.  His prose is easy enough to follow with the one exception being the interchangeable names of characters.  For example, Alexey is as often called Alyosha, Dmitri also goes by Mitya or Mitka, his mistress Agrafena is also called Grushenka or Grusha, and so on.  Almost every character has an alias or two that are used interchangeably and without explanation.  I admit it took some getting used to.  Otherwise, I had no trouble following the narrative.

Typical of 19th century Russian literature, The Brothers Karamazov is long-winded, sometimes exhaustingly so.  But it is also deeply philosophical, with a grand central theme suggesting that even our most minor actions can heavily influence the lives of others, and because of that, we are all responsible for one another.  I gave it 4 stars on goodreads because, though it is unnecessarily long and wordy, it is also extremely thought-provoking, dramatic and stirring.  If you’re looking for something to challenge your ideals and really make you think about what’s in the minds of others as well as your own, I recommend it.

~Nikki

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5 thoughts on “Slip Inside The Eye Of Your Mind

  1. My best friend in high school gave me a copy of Crime and Punishment as a gift, and I quickly became fascinated by Raskolnikov and his idea that he was, as an intellectually superior person, above morality. It’s been literally decades since I read it…..I believe I was only 17! But I do recall that I couldn’t put the book down. The multiple names for many characters was, at first confusing, but that didn’t get in the way of the story of a brutal murderer so driven by paranoia and then…….but no, I won’t give away any more. After that, I read Anna Karenina and loved it, but somehow became bogged down in War and Peace. I returned to another of Dostoevsky’s – The Brothers Karamazov – and I was captivated once more. It is the spirituality of Dostoevsky’s work that drew me in. At the time, I had long considered entering a convent upon graduation, and so many of my favorite books dealt with the spiritual side of humanity. Even the sci-fi I was reading contained strong elements of that – works by Bradbury, Asimov, and Heinlein. I remember a history professor of mine…..he taught pre-Communist Russian History, and I recall how he stressed the deeply spiritual nature of the Russian people. He used to say there was tremendous significance in the reference to their country as “Mother Russia.” The literature I was familiar with certainly reflected this.

  2. I definitely liked The Idiot more than The Brothers Karamazov. If you’re looking for great Russian literature, as someone who’s slightly obsessed with it, might I recommend Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, We by Zamyatin, First Love by Turgenev, and The Nose/Dead Souls by Gogol. None of these books are as long winded as anything Dostoevsky wrote, although Bulgakov does suffer from the same ‘many different names for the same characters’ problem that Dostoevsky uses. But there is a mini series available on youtube, which helped me figure out who was who. 😀

  3. Nice short review. I’ve only read Crime and Punishment and a few of his short stories, but BK is definitely on my to-read list. He really is long-winded, but the ideas and accompanying feelings are fantastic.

  4. Pingback: Classic Literature Challenge | ravingmadscientists

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