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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Brothers Karamazov

Back when I started reading in earnest, I was shocked to find that I really enjoyed Tolstoy's War and Peace.  I also really liked Anna Karenina (despite the fact that the translation I read gave away a major plot element in the introduction).  They weren't without their difficulties.  The many characters seem to be referred to by three or more names, few of which were familiar enough for me to easily remember and there are situations that don't translate well across time and culture.  Now I've read The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, one of the other giants of Russian literature, and I see that these problems weren't unique to Tolstoy.

I didn't like this book as much as either of the works I read by Tolstoy.  I don't even know that I would say that I enjoyed it.  It is certainly a great novel from a technical perspective.  There are scenes from the novel that I will never forget.  But in general, I didn't find the story engaging.  The characters' actions and motivations were, on the whole, alien and unrelatable to me.

Image result for the brothers karamazov

The book primarily revolves around the investigation and prosecution of a murder, generally believed to be patricide.  From my perspective, the more the story makes you actually care about solving the mystery, the more it leads to disappointment.  This is because the ultimate explanations of what happened are based on motivations and decisions by the characters that make no sense.  This is intentional, many of these individuals are clearly deeply disturbed and act accordingly.  But I'd still say, even with that context, that it makes no sense.  Add to that the ludicrous coincidences that do seem somewhat common in Russian literature and I found it impossible to actually feel engaged by the book.

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