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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boldly sums things up, August 14, 2000
This review is from: The Brothers Karamazov (Bantam Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
"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.
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Initial post: Dec 30, 2009 5:05:19 PM PST
Thank you so much for your summarization of The Brothers Karamazov. It's by far the best review I have ever read. You captured the essence of this complex masterpiece.

Posted on Jul 7, 2012 6:25:07 AM PDT
Wonderful review....well thought out and articulated...
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