144 of 151 people found the following review helpful
The most important book I've ever read.,
This review is from: The Brothers Karamazov (Bantam Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
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."
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 24, 2010 6:05:55 PM PDT
Bohdan Hodiak says:
A beautiful, heartfelt review, one of the best I ever read. Isn't strange though that Dostoyevsky believed Russian spirituality would save Europe when it is rather inward, ulta conservative and impotent
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 1, 2010 12:50:56 PM PDT
That is a great review. I wish he had said more about how it changed him and why he thought it was so important. I've never read the book but I'm planning to.
Posted on Oct 7, 2011 11:26:03 AM PDT
Yes, this is the greatest book ever written. So good, in fact, that there's really no reason to write another novel. Vonnegut is certainly right. I've read it several times, at different stages of my life. I encourage to read it again. Nice review.
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