165 of 172 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2005
Andrew MacAndrew's translation of the "Brothers Karamazov" (1970; the one that's been used for the past couple of decades for the Bantam paperback) is, I submit, far and away the best that has been done into English since Dostoevsky's book was published in about 1880. It reads naturally and does not contain too much slang. The most impressive translation of Dostoevsky into English I've come across is Jesse Coulson's "Crime and Punishment." It's simply astonishing, but he never did "The Brothers Karamazov."
NOTES ON OTHER TRANSLATIONS:
* The translation by Constance Garnett (many editions): Avoid it! High-toned and dense. Will make reading "The Brothers Karamazov" far more difficult than it has to be. People who are into Dostoevsky really detest this translation: it's tough going: stale and stuffy throughout. When will this thing die? I'm guessing this is the translation used for so many cheap editions (e.g., Wordsworth Classics, Dover Thrift Editions, Penguin Popular Classics, etc.) because it's public domain by this point and the publishers don't have to pay anybody.
* The Pevear and Volokhonsky version (ISBN: 0374528373). Several scholars of Dostoevsky have come out saying this is the "most faithful" translation to date, as the book's jacket does not neglect to point out. However, other equally well-respected scholars have complained that it is breezy and inaccurate.
* The David MacDuff job (Penguin, ISBN: 0140449248). Serviceable but not sparkling. Also a bit slangy. It does, however, do a great job with the footnotes.
* The Ignat Avsey effort (This is the one used by the Oxford World Classics: ISBN: 0192835092). I confess to never having negotiated this particular one, and can only warn you that it, like Garnett's above, is British English. I have it on my shelf, though. The one advantage I can see in this edition is that it, more than any of the others, has additional stuff to help you with the reading: introduction, Dostoevsky chronology, list of characters, etc. but mainly a long section of EXPLANATORY NOTES at the back, which are keyed to the text via asterisks you find as you're reading. Thus Avsey offers the best footnotes of any of these editions, although this is not one of those texts where that's gonna be a big deal.
* The David Magarshack translation. Haven't read it. Sorry.
* There is another edition I'm aware of: The translation by Louis Hechenbleikner and the Princess Alexandra Kropotkin, which first came out in 1949 and for which W. Somerset Maugham wrote the introduction. The translation has a fair reputation, but the problem is that it is so thoroughly out of print that you'd probably have to search through rare book shops to find it.
Bottom line: MacAndrew's read most swiftly and naturally for me. It's like you're not even reading something that has been translated!
(Note that Amazon's page on the MacAndrew edition The Brothers Karamazov (Bantam Classics) gives the impression, at least in declaring that the book is "by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Konstantin Mochulsky" that Konstantin Mochulski is the translator. Not the case: Mochulsky merely wrote the 10-page introduction. The translator is still Andrew MacAndrew.)
Anyhow. Happy reading, folks!
160 of 169 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2000
In Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, Rosewater tells Billy Pilgrim that "everything there [is] to know about life [is] in The Brothers Karamazov, by Feodor Dostoevsky."
And so, I took Rosewater to heart, and after finishing Slaughterhouse over my winter break, I went to the library and took out the intimidatingly old and terribly thick translation of The Brothers Karamazov. I sat down on my bed at home and opened it, and thought to myself, "Let's read the first page, and see if I can make sense of it."
The first page, is in fact, a message from the author and it addresses the same question (more or less) that I was asking myself as I began to read:
"Starting out on the biography of my hero, Alexi Fyodorovich Karamazov, I find myself in some perplexity. Namely, that while I do call Alexi Fyodorovich my hero, still, I myself know that he is by no means a great man, so that I can foresee the inevitable questions, such as: What is notable about your Alexei Fyodorovich that you should choose him for your hero? What has he really done? To whom is he known, and for what? Why should I, the reader, spend my time studying the facts of his life?"
It is that last question-why anyone should want to spend time studying the facts of his life (and, on a side note, I recently read a Dave Barry column where he asks, "Has anyone actually finished The Brothers Karamazov?") that I am here to sell you on.
I can say now, even though I literally just finished it, with some degree of certainty, that The Brothers Karamazov is the most important book that I have ever read. It has very much changed me-and my perception of the world. I will go back to it, throughout my life, and reread many of its passages. I will forever remember-whether consciously or unconsciously-its characters, its moments, and its apparent meanings.
I am here to tell you, though, that you-yes you-are very much capable of reading The Brothers Karamazov. I was the one in high school who read the Cliff's Notes for The Scarlet Letter and for Dostoyevski's own Crime and Punishment. If you asked me then, and in fact if you asked me only a few months ago, if I thought I might ever read The Brothers Karamazov for pleasure, I would have laughed. And yet I did just exactly that, reading the first 100 pages from the library, and then going out and purchasing my own copy-because I knew after those first 100 pages that I could, and that I would, finish.
And now a short note on translation: the library book that I began with was, indeed, readable, but the book that I eventually bought was a new translation that came out in 1991. Critics praise this translation on the front and back covers; the New York Times writes, "One finally gets the musical whole of Dostoyevsky's original." And since I read the first 100 pages from an older translation, I can agree with the NYT that this translation is far superior. [And for those who plan on tackling this book, it's a pink and white copy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.]
And now on to the book itself. I would say that this book works on two levels: on one level it is a mystery/thriller/love story/drama (all on one level) that is exciting for its plot and its suspense. The other level, though, is the spiritual level-a level that justifies the presence of the seemingly (in retrospect) unimportant characters of Zossima the Elder and Ilyushenka, the poor little boy who gets sick after his father is publicly humiliated. These characters don't affect, really, the plot of the book-although they both play important roles. They are, though, there for very different reasons-and they are for me the most important characters in the book.
In conclusion, (and yet I feel like I could write so much more), read The Brothers Karamazov because we view the world constantly through a filter-a filter of consciousness-and this book will reshape and reconfigure your filter. It's like a spiritual tune-up. It will lead to deep introspection, it will comfort you, it will disturb you, and most of all it will better you. As the elder Zossima tells Alyosha, "you will bless life and cause others to bless it-which is the most important thing."
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2000
"The Brothers Karamazov" is an ethical compendium and certainly one of the greatest novels ever written. Other reviewers have done a better job than I could of summarizing the complexly layered plot and symbolic nature of the characters. I might depart from them a bit by suggesting that each of the brothers is confined to a specific role and might be viewed as a prisoner of sorts.
The radical, revolutionary brother Ivan is a prisoner of his intellect. His essay on "The Grand Inquisitor" is the second of his two-part assault on his brother Aleosha's belief in Christ. Dimity, the lover of women and eruptive speaker is a prisoner of his passion. Aleosha, who worships his spiritual mentor, Father Zosima is a prisoner of his faith, while Smerdyakov, the ill begotten son of Fyodor Karamazov and a street woman is a prisoner of his circumstances. Each brother is a unique and integral component of the human condition.
But a novel cannot work through symbolism and personification alone. Like Tolstoi's `War and Peace" this book is also a series of essays. The chapter in which Father Zosima discovers his faith on the evening before his is supposed fight a duel is an essay of courage and integrity that far outstrips any thing written by "macho" authors such as Hemingway and Camus. In this chapter, Zosima is a carousing young military officer who discovers his faith in God on the evening before he is to fight a duel. This puts Zosima in a quandary since his faith now prevents him from killing another human being but he still does not want to appear a coward. Zosima solves this problem by offering his opponent the first shot. When his opponent misses, Zosima declines to take his shot. Instead he throws away his pistol and asks "am I worth it?" Zosima has transcended his ego and followed his conscience while still preserving his honor. This brief, action packed chapter summarizes the complexity of spiritual evolution. Zosima's faith does not give him an easy way out or solve all of his problems. He must still deal with the consequences of his previous actions even after discovering God. Faith in his case is hardly a narcotic.
The Grand Inquisitor chapter on the other hand clearly separates the sort of faith experienced by Father Zosima from the more cynical manifestations of organized religion. In this chapter Ivan tells Aleosha a story about Christ returning to Earth during the height of the Spanish Inquisition. Christ is arrested and brought before the Grand Inquisitor who clearly recognizes Him for who and what He is. Far from fearing or rejoicing in Christ's presence, the Grand Inquisitor threatens to try him for heresy and burn him. Since the Grand Inquisitor is primarily interested in the power and authority he derives from his position, the last thing he wants is a true believer let alone Christ himself to appear on the scene. The Grand Inquisitor tries to bate Christ into rebutting him, but Christ's silence frustrates him and eventually the Grand Inquisitor releases him.
From these brief descriptions, one can hopefully grasp the range of this work as a novel of ideas and a panoramic essay on the nature of faith and the human condition. In illuminating the struggles born by every human being in their physical and spiritual lives, Dostoevsky offers no easy solution. Dostoevsky's emphasis on the silent, invisible nature of courage and the folly of institutionalized belief make him the spiritual father of thinkers such as Nietze and Sartre. The ideas this book illuminates and questions it raises are universal and relevant to this day.
33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 1999
I read this book in a bit of a hurry about three years ago, and regret doing it that way. This is because it did not end up being the profound read that many of my friends said it was. In fact, I would go so far as to venture that Dostoevsky is not completely, or at least easily, accessible to people without a background in literature. It's not an impossible task though, and during the past three years I have found myself appreciating this masterwork more and more.
In fact, some parts of the book are breathtaking. Some basic, blunt, questions about life are asked and then answered. You may or may not like Dostoevsky's worldview, but you have to admit that he does make you think. For example, how many Christians have ever asked: "What if I die, and find out, after a lifetime of believing, that there's nothing, nothing, after death?" This question is asked and answered in the book, as are so many others that so many of us are afraid to ask.
Even if you don't have the patience to slog through the 700+ pages of the novel, at least borrow a copy from someone and read the chapter entitled 'The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor.' You cannot call yourself truly read until you have gone through these 20 or so pages that are possibly the greatest ever written in literature.
A last word of warning. If you do get the Bantam Classic version of this novel (i.e. the one with the purple cover), do NOT read the critique beforehand! Like many critiques, the writer feels obligated to give away the plot ahead of time. In this case, it is the name of the character who commits the murder. Since the book is really more about philosophy than plot, this ruined what little plot there was for me. The critique is a good one though, and should be read after the novel itself.
All said, I still highly recommend this book to anyone searching for either a good read or the meaning of life. Just make sure you are in a quiet place where you can really think!
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 1998
Although some may be intimidated by this book's prodigious length and status as a "classic," I implore everyone to read this novel. As simply a story, the Brothers K is an enthralling tale of murder and deception among 4 brothers and their despicable father set in pre-Revolutionary Russia. But Dostoevsky's attention to detail, use of language, and character development are what make this work literature. However the Brothers K's unparalleled status originates from the astonishingly insightful questions it raises about the nature of man and God. I consider myself relatively well-read, but in my experience, never has another work of literature speculated on the human condition in a fashion so sublime. If you are still hesitant about reading this book, then read the chapters "Rebellion" followed by "The Grand Inquisitor" (the most famous chapter in any novel) and I'm sure your reservations will vanish. I must say I believe the Brothers K is the most profound novel ever written and to me, it speaks great truths.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
This is one of the greatest books ever not written in Dactylic Hexameter, authored by one of the finest novelists who has ever lived. It is a masterwork of storytelling which inquires into such topics as morality, mortality, the veracity of religion as well as some of the possible ethical implications of a universe minus an omnipotent and benevolent creator. And, of course (for those scoring at home) it also contains Ivan's infamous allegory of the "Grand Inquisitor."
The novel centers around the denizens of a small Russian town. The way in which D weaves their life stories together reminds me a lot of Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks." Within the story one can find representatives from almost every walk of life, from the arrogant and proud to the curious and inquisitive to the slothful and pernicious. In many ways, Dimytri and the father represent Nietzsche's exegesis on the Dionysian, countered against the Apollonian outlook of Ivan. Alexie is somewhere in the middle. But one will understand all of this much better by reading the book.
As is the case with Shakespeare's "King Lear," Foucault's "Discipline And Punish," Camus' "The Plague" and Hesse' "Beneath The Wheel," there are scenes within this novel that will stay with the reader for the rest of his / her life. Leading the tragic, difficult and mostly unhappy life that he did, Dostoyevsky knew a great deal more about human cruelty and human suffering than the lot of us. One can easily see just how much his sojourn in Siberia as well as his bout with epilepsy influenced his writings.
For those ambitious enough to experience this magnificent literary accomplishment be warned: it is one of the most powerful texts you will ever read. It is literature's counterpart to plutonium. A wonderful book for atheists, theologians, scholars and laymen. Read this book with care, but do read it.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2002
This is the best book I know. From what I read, it was also the favorite novel of Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Albert Camus. It's no difficult read, though it is very long, but once you get through the first pages you'll find yourself hooked in this vast web of situations and conversations. The book is very philosophical and theological, but you don't have to know anything about philosophy or anything, it's written in words everyone can understand. Alyosha is a truly inspiring character, representing the perfect, selfless christian (Dostojevski wanted to write a sequel to 'Karamazov' in which Alyosha would become a revolutionary, but he died before he got the chance to write it); Dmitri is the drunk/gambler/hedonist with a good heart; Iwan (my favourite) is the thinker, constantly doubting gods existence or nonexistence (like Dostojevski himself). Then there's the father Fyodor, a really funny character, mocking everything, turning everything into a game, the real nihillist.
The chapter about 'The grand inquisitor' is the best, and also the chapter when Iwan has a conversation with the devil. There are a couple of stories in this book , not just one, and every character is very deeply portrayed. Dostojevski put everything that was inside of him into this book : his constant struggle to stay a christian, his hatred for the church of Rome and the West, the loss of his son Alyosha, his love for the Russian common people, his epilepsy, his gambling problem, his conviction to Siberia, love affairs... 'Karamazov' has it ALL! Believe me. Dostojevski does not write beautiful sentences. His sentences are crooked and simple. He is not after your smile with smart irony. Dostojevski was not a rich man when he wrote his books. He had a family to take care of and a gambling problem, and also bad health. In this condition he wrote many many beautiful, long books. I think he didn't bother to write smartass literature like Oscar Wilde or something.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2004
I hadn't had a reason to read until my latest work commute changed adding a 1 hour plus train ride. As a result I was drawn to this book as a fascination with the author first, and second as a 'test' to see if I could get through it. I noticed it's length and was drawn to see if I could finish it and more importantly enjoy it.
In the end it was the most satisfying book I have ever read in my life. What else can I say here that hasn't already been said? There are passages in this book and chapters that have some of the most unique writing I have ever come across. The characters are so litteraly vivid that the amount of detail in describing their thoughts and conversations practically puts you in their head as they speak.
It's also amazing how almost half the book is just background and conversations (fascinating they are), and the plot doesn't come out until much later, and then when it does it certainly leaves you hanging on every word. You really get an insight into how these characters think, live, and breathe. I still keep thinking of them days after finishing this book. It is as if you can see yourself in all of them in some way or another.
Remember a pound of nuts, ask if hell has hooks if there is no ceiling, know the grand inquisitor, try to recognize the devil, find the balance between mans hatred and spirituality with god.
Read this book at some point in your life before you die. I am amazed a human can create something like this as Dostoevsky did. It is absolutley mind-boggling.. Sheer brilliance.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2003
The above phrase is, indeed, used far too often and too lightly, and is generously applied to works that definitely do not deserve the title. However, this deep, compelling, and profoundly thoughtful masterpiece is certainly worthy of the accolade. Dostoyevsky was never one to skimp on length, but this book is truly massive: nearly 1,000 pages in paperback form. Unbelievably, every word counts. His final novel, Dostoyevsky wrote this book at the end of his life, taking most of his final decade to do so, and it incorporates elements from each of his previous works into one unbelievably complex tapestry. You may have heard that this book is the story of a murdered father and his sons, one of which committed the patricide. Such a crude description of the book does no justice at all to this masterpiece: it is akin to saying that Animal Farm is about "a bunch of animals who talk and rise up against humans." Indeed, this event does not even take place in the novel until well over a third of the way into the book - a length greater than that of most complete novels. It is merely a backdrop for the real ramifications of the novel: the psychological, philosophical, and theological ground it treads. As one perceptive reviewer noted, Dostoyevsky was as much a psychologist and philosopher as a mere novelist: his works had a huge impact on world thought in both of these fields - not just in Russia - and influenced everyone from Freud to Nietzsche to modern-day writers such as James Morrow. The problem of the existence of God is a central point of the novel - as it is in all of Dostoyevsky's greatest works - reaching its pinnacle in Ivan Karamazov's famous tale of the Grand Inquisitor. The work was obviously a huge influence on the aforementioned Nietzsche as it raised the frightening question that, if God does not indeed exist, is then everything permitted? - just as Crime and Punishment anticipated Nietzsche's concept of the Superman. Dostoyevsky clearly had a lot to say, and he poured it all into this book. A profoundly deep, penetrating novel that portrays a frighteningly accurate portrait of human nature, The Brothers Karamazov is truly one of the greatest works of world literature. One of the greatest novels ever written.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2000
It's no exaggeration to say that I found BK to be by far the most engaging, emotionally satisfying novel I've ever read - which is stunning, considering it was written over a century ago and had to endure the painful process of translation to English. It is a book that is not afraid to grapple with the Big Questions: the existence of God and the Devil, the loss and rebirth of faith, the depths of human misery and triumph. Dostoevsky (as anyone who read Crime & Punishment can attest) is unbeatable when it comes to exploring the human psyche. In BK, he merely ups the ante by taking the reader on a journey into the minds of three very different young men - all siblings, all forced to deal with a tragedy and its aftermath. The first portion of the novel builds slowly, climaxing in Dostoevsky's famous chapter "The Grand Inquisitor". Following is an intricate criminal investigation and courtroom drama, a probing of the question of "moral guilt" vs. "actual guilt", and a spellbinding confrontation with the Devil. Perhaps more than any other work of fiction, BK succeeds in its aim of exploring the Big Questions and their relation to human nature. It's a novel that truly affects the way one looks at the world and at oneself.