Book reviews

Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (originally published 1879-1880; translated by Constance Garnett)

A crime novel, with tedious romances yet interesting commentary about Socialism and Christianity.

Essentially a mystery and crime plot, the romances in Dostoyevsky’s novel don’t appeal to me, but the political commentary does.  Knowing that Tsarist Russia fell to Communism tempers the reading with great sorrow.

Despite this sorrow, several characters generate visceral reactions.  Alyosha is just too flat in his piety.  Fyodor, the Karamazov patriarch, lacks self-control over his sexual passion and his greed and is a warning to all fathers to live their faith and to love their children.  Grushenka and Katerina are both obnoxiously overemotional women, screaming and crying and sobbing and falling to the floor for love—enough to make both men and women puke.  Ivan is a horribly sad example of a man who abandoned his faith.  Kolya is utterly naive in his thinking about socialism.  Smerdyakov is an exception, being well-depicted as a man who commits murder and thinks he can get away with it.

All the male characters are warnings that men should reserve their genitals for their spouses.  Likewise, all the female characters are warnings that women should reserve their sexual abilities for their husbands.  What else does this novel concern except the effects of overblown passions and the lack of self-control, whether one is aristocratic or a common peasant?

And to think that the novel communicates these ideas without the vapid and stupid sex scenes of twentieth-century fiction.  Amazing!

Professors and critics consider “The Grand Inquisitor” chapter (Book V, chapter V) as a significant discussion of freedom and Jesus’ liberation of mankind from the slavery of sin.  I argue that the “hallucination” which Ivan experiences of a devil manifesting itself to him (Book XI, chapter IX) is much more meaningful in this twenty-first century, especially for those who have not abandoned their Jewish and Christian faith.

Many items in the plot which leave the reader hanging (does Mitya escape from Siberia and go to America with Grushenka? does Alyosha return to the monastery?) may be unresolved because the novel replicates Imperial Russia at a crucial point in its history.  Late in the nineteenth century, after the serfs were freed, the empire was struggling to adopt Western European values, yet it was being torn apart from within by Socialist and later Communist zealots who would rather kill people instead of enact legislative reforms.

Sounds like what Antifa domestic terrorists and the useless and lawless Democratic Party are doing to the United States today.

An educated reader knows that the Russian empire which Dostoyevsky philosophized in this novel would eventually become one of the sources of mass murder throughout the world in the twentieth century as the Soviet empire.  He probably surmised such an anti-life trend, which is why the novel contains much discussion about Russian Orthodoxy in opposition to Socialist attacks on Christianity and its tenets (especially belief in eternal life).

Is reading this 822-page masterpiece of world literature worth it when time may be better spent tweeting, for example, to help reelect President Trump?  Yes, if only because doing so not only spites leftist professors who would censor or cancel this novel as just a piece of “dead white male Eurocentric heteropatriarchal blah blah blah” literature,  but also because its ideas and images are enduring.  Thus, unlike most contemporary fiction, this is a novel which may require a second reading later in life, or a third….

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