on January 28, 2012
Before you dedicate many hours to reading this masterpiece, you must be sure you select the appropriate translation for your reading style. The Pevear translation - although highly acclaimed - may make it difficult for most readers to grasp the essence of this beautiful story, and therefore I would almost always recommend the McDuff version ahead of the Pevear.
The Brothers Karamazov presents the same challenge for every English translator; namely, Dostoevsky took pride in creating distinct voices and syntax for each of his characters, and most translations have sacrificed the syntax and voicing to make it more readable - in the process losing much of the tone of each character. Pevear's translation is known for being the truest to the original, as it replicates the syntax with an almost academic precision. However, in being so true to the syntax and voicing, Pevear leaves sentence structures that are so unfamiliar-sounding to the native English speaker as to be disruptive. Many times as I read this translation I found myself jolted out of the flow of reading because the phrasing felt so awkward. As an example of a difficult sentence:
Pevear: "These occasions were almost morbid: most depraved, and, in his sensuality, often as cruel as a wicked insect, Fyodor Pavlovich at times suddenly felt in himself, in his drunken moments, a spiritual fear, a moral shock, that almost, so to speak, resounded physically in his soul." Compare that to
McDuff "These were instances that almost seemed to involve some morbid condition: most depraved, and in his voluptuous lust often brutal, like an evil insect, Fyodor Pavlovich would on occasion suddenly experience within himself, in his drunken moments, a sense of spiritual terror and moral concussion that echoed almost physically, as it were, within his soul".
This is a good example of the tradeoffs each translator makes. Generally: Pevear's is tight, precise, uses simple language and is truest to the original and punchy sentence structure. It requires a high tolerance for odd syntax. McDuff's uses a broader vocabulary (e.g. "moral concussion"), but his flow/ear is much more natural to most English speakers. The sacrifice is that McDuff uses probably 5%-10% more words, but I personally believe these additions make it far more readable. It is still generally true to the sentence structure, but by taking a quarter step away from the purist version, he sheds much more light on the underlying text than Pevear.
Based on research, other reviewers and my own experience: if you are familiar with Russian, Pevear is for you. If you value precision, read for words instead of flow, or are better able to tolerate difficult phrasing than difficult vocabulary, then Pevear is for you. If you are more comfortable with a wider repertoire of words, and typically read with a background sense of the "flow" of each sentence, I believe McDuff will be far more readable while maintaining all the essence of the original work.
on July 9, 2004
I cannot compare this translation to the others. Like most mortals, I rarely read 800 page books more than once. However, I can attest that The Brothers Karamazov, as translated here, combines the moving human drama we expect from Dostoevsky with liberal dose of wry humor. The text seems modern and fresh, the circumstances and petty humor surrounding the characters so central to the human predicament that the story is timeless.
And what a story: It is (among many things) a satire of human corruption, a meditation on faith and religious institutions in an age of skepticism, a murder mystery involving love triangles, a courtroom thriller and in the end a testament to the goodness and bravery humans are capable of.
The story follows the lives of old man Karamazov, a filthy penny-pinching lech and his three sons. Each son represents a different side to the Russian character: Dimitri the spoiled lout (or the prodigal son), Ivan the tortured intellect, and Alyosha the spiritual searcher.
Alyosha, Dostoevsy says, is our hero. And he does represent a certain Christian ideal. He, in the end, stands for brotherhood and meekness in the face of temptation. These qualities, no doubt, are what Dostoevsky suggests will preserve and redeem the Russian nation. All around Alyosha is the carnage caused by people who are not awake to this truth -- and they wallow in suffering.
This book, the last Dostoevsky wrote, also presents an intricate political/religious landscape. We see Russia on the brink of socialist forment, and the church is not spared in the skepitism of characters like Ivan, who, in the 'Grand Inquisitor' chapter, presents the most spine tingling critique of organized religion I've ever read.
But, after 800 pages Brothers Karamazov is a book that burns so brightly and is so capable of moving a reader that the book's cost will seem paltry and the reader who comes through will find his or her knowledge of the human soul expanded. A+.
on July 27, 2000
I think I am going to read this wonderful book again. There is so much life and passion in it, that reading it again will definitely enrich my soul even further.
I want to tell you how this novel changed my life. It was recommended to me by a Russian Orthodox priest who considered it the best source of Russian Orthodox spirituality in literature. So I read it. I read it because at the time I was striving to become a true Orthodox Christian myself. The result, however, turned out the opposite: I lost any faith I ever had in the truth of the Church and all its dogmas. This book gave me an idea that if there is God, it is certainly not what we are taught He is.
I think that in this work Dostoevsky reached the very height of what I would call "a war with oneself". He created this unforgettable contrast between what he wanted to believe (and, indeed believed at times) and what he actually was going through in his spiritual search, which were probably indescribable spiritual torments of doubt. I now have this indelible image of Ivan confiding in Alesha, arguing with Satan and, at last, denying God himself in his search for the truth. It was he, who stirred my whole being and it was Dostoevsky himself speaking through Ivan with the most profound sincerety and desperation.
On the opposite, Dostoevsky introduces Alyosha, who didn't doubt, but just loved and believed. This young man, according to Dostoevsky's plan, is a prototype of Jesus Christ himself, a man in whom the truth is open within, a man through whom one can truly feel God's love. It is a fascinating character, although, Dostoevsky depicts him in the light of Christian Orthodoxy, as an example of TRUE spirituality, as opposed to any other spirituality. Nevertheless, if we were to take liberties in the interpretation of the work, put the dogmas aside and look at Alyosha as a human being, then we could boldly say, that this young man IS the embodiment of love, truth and godliness. I really would want to at least resemble such a person!
And in the midst of this spiritual struggle, there is murder, treachery, repentance, love and comedy, which bring the characters out into your own life. I just love this book! I love the brothers, even though they are so different! There are so many things to love "The Brothers Karamazov" for, but it is for this brave, but nevertheless desperate challenge to our faith, and at the same time, a great example of living it, that I praise this book so highly. It is truly as rich, thought-provoking and awe-inspiring as life itself.
P.S. I highly recommend the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. It is the most correct and true to the spirit of the book translation available. By the way, they also translated "Crime and Punishment", "The Demons", "Notes from the Underground" and lots more, so I recommend those as well. And if you really would like to get the feel of how Dostoevsky DID NOT write, try the translation by Constance Garnett! It is outdated and, frankly, in some places she took liberties at what to leave and what to take out. I read "The Brothers Karamazov" in Russian and English, going line-by-line sometimes and discovering those literary atrocities all along the text.
on January 16, 2007
If a greater novel than THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV has ever been written, I haven't found it yet.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, unquestionably among the greatest novelists of all time, finished his literary career on an emphatic note, publishing KARAMAZOV only a few months before his death. Herein are all of the masterful themes, motifs, and devices of Dostoevsky's earlier works, all converging in one culminating masterpiece: the chilling, penetrating introspection and gut-wrenching humanity of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT; the contrary depiction of man's capability to do good of THE IDIOT; the intrigue and dark satire of DEMONS; and the existentialistic inquisitiveness and philosophical investigation patent to NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND. Throw in an impeccably diverse and symbolic cast of characters; a gripping plot; and an inumberable quantity of subplots, moral struggles, and ideological discussion, and the end result is an epic tragedy that will evoke, throughout its course, the full range of emotions of its reader.
KARAMAZOV prominently features the most thoroughly unsympathetic literary character since... well, does Satan from THE BIBLE count? This character is the patriarch of the eponymous siblings, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, and he is everything that is detestable and despicable about human nature: a liar, an adulterer, a penny-pincher, an absent father, a womanizer, and possibly worse. He has fathered four children (presumably; the novel accounts for three and hints at a fourth), and raised none of them. But that's not the worst of what he's done. What is? Well, I won't spoil it for you now.
The four brothers of the title each represent a different embodiment of the Russian spirit and, by extension, the human spirit. The eldest, Mitya, is a materialist, a sensualist, or whatever other euphemism you choose to use in place of "playboy". Ivan, the next oldest, is an intellectual, an atheist, and an idealist--he is the most prosperous and practical of the brothers. Alyosha, the half-brother of Mitya and Ivan, is the kindly, spiritual, and caring Karamazov; Dostoevsky considers Alyosha to be the novel's protagonist. Smerdyakov, the suspected fourth brother, is sly, meddling, and cruel. Everyone should be able to find all of the chief traits of his or her self amongst these four brothers--they are a brilliant microcosm of all mankind.
KARAMAZOV will keep you riveted and engaged despite its notable length and density. It is at once a murder mystery, a psychological thriller, a courtroom drama, a philosophical journey, and an intellectual masterwork. From the haunting religious criticism of Ivan's prose poem "The Grand Inquistor" to the satirical brilliance of "The Devil" to the ambiguously concise, emotionally overwhelming finale, this is pure genius. It's just a shame that Dostoevsky died before he could complete the trilogy of which KARAMAZOV was meant to only be the beginning.
I can hardly begin to describe how profoundly this novel affected me. I completed it at the age of 16, just as I began my senior year of high school. In the mere six months since, I have devoted the majority of my free time to reading and studying literature--largely thanks to the influence of Dostoevsky. The influence of this novel has been felt in all facets of world culture: KARAMAZOV has earned accolades from Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Pope Benedict XVI, among millions of others--myself just one of them. I can't emphasize strongly enough how outstanding THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV is.
on January 20, 2004
I read all the hype about Pevear's translation and decided to see for myself, reading large sections of the book and comparing sentence for sentence. Honestly, I liked the old Garnett translation better. The Pevear gets the style and tone a lot better, reads smoother, but on sections with deep emotional or religious signifigance seemed to miss the point, choosing phrasings and word substitutions that are confusing and hard to relate to. The style you can always reconstruct, but to read this book and not get a clear picture of the deep spiritual despair of some of the characters would be too bad.
on July 3, 2003
I'm not going to comment on the novel itself - I don't think anyone just casually stumbles on a book so famous, you already know something about what you're getting into. But I have to say this translation is the best I've read. I started with the Signet edition and switched to this one about 1/3 of the way through, and the improvement was obvious. A friend was reading the Oxford edition at the same time as me, and I preferred this one to the Oxford too. I found this translation to be very lively, with natural and believable storytelling. It also had a lot of little sylistic oddities that the Signet translation didn't - I assume they tried to "polish" Dostoevsky's writing style at the expense of his interesting voice. So if you want to read Karamazov but don't know what version to buy, get this one.
on February 21, 2000
There are few words to describe this towering achievement: Magnificent. Chilling. Overwhelming. Ferocious. Intense. Uplifting. Dostoevsky's masterpiece, published just months before his death, is the single greatest book I have ever read. Every book I'd encountered is just a pale shadow of this one, for it contains everything the human heart holds dear. What I truly love about this book is its depiction of human suffering and evil--why, even the Devil himself makes an appearance, as an old Frenchman who engages atheist Karamazov brother Ivan in a philosophical discussion. The Devil takes the old Latin phrase, "I am human, therefore nothing human is alien to me" and changes it to: "I am Satan, therefore nothing human is alien to me." My blood runs cold at the perfection of that. And Ivan himself says to his young Christian brother Alyosha: "I believe that if the Devil exists, man created him in his own image." These are some of the truest, most profound words ever spoken.
But the story! Oh, what a tangled, complex, gripping tale we have of murder, jealousy, lust, anger, and guilt! Dostoevsky knew how to spin a murder mystery, that's for sure. The genius of this book (and many of Dostoevksy's) is that it is utterly contemporary--its intensity translates well to today's world; in many ways the violence and psychological torment here is comparable to a Martin Scorsese film (the filmmaker has indeed invoked the great writer's name on several occasions). While I was reading this book, the OJ Simpson trial was in full force, and it paralleled the book's penultimate chapters in the Russian courts. All of Russian society was there, and fascinated by what the murder of Fyodor Karamazov, the father, said about Russia at the turn of the century. This is precisely what America went through during that trial in 1995--Dostoevsky's book, written over 100 years before, perfectly captured our world today. I was stunned, and what seemed like a ridiculous media circus became fraught with meaning, illuminated by "The Brothers Karamazov." Who ever would've thought?
Read this book. Read it. It is what every work of literature wants to be... but can't quite make it.
on November 24, 2006
The Brothers Karamazov is, without a doubt, one of my favorite books, and this review isn't at all a commentary on Dostoevsky's original and his novel. Dostoevsky's work stands above criticism from people like me, and I highly recommend reading A copy of Brothers Karamazov.
However, I don't always recommend reading THIS copy. Pevear and Volokhonsky are very good translators, and do an admirable job here. However, Pevear and Volokhonsky have made an obvious choice to favor readability and smoothness in English over fidelity to the original Russian. This is a double-edged sword. If you're not a literary type, and are just looking to read the Brothers Karamazov and to see what all the hype is about, then this version will be great for you. However, if you're more interested in studying, analyzing, and examining this text, I'd highly recommend going with one of the translations by Constance Garnett instead. Similarly, if you're looking for a nice, smooth translation, check here, but if the appearance of English idiom, rhyme and usage patterns in a translation makes you twitch, then head over to Garnett's version.
So, long story short, casual readers will probably love this version, and academic readers will likely prefer the Garnett version. Neither is better or worse than the other, they're just different translators with different priorities. Just take a second to decide what you'd prefer, and then enjoy this incredible novel.
on May 14, 2004
I was a Russian literature major in college and, although I was assigned BK in at least one of my classes, I remember falling behind on the readings and guiltily faking my way through the exam. A few years out of college now, I recently took a couple weeks of vacation to do the appropriate penance for my earlier failure: to read what most people think is the masterpiece of Dostoevsky's literary career.
Those reading this presumably know the rough outline of the novel: a father and his three (possibly four) sons are introduced, their relationships are described and developed, the father is murdered, and one of the sons is accused and tried. On the surface, this plot doesn't sound like much, hardly enough for a book of this length, but Dostoevsky is so committed to painting rich characters and relationships that this novel becomes enormously complex.
My reactions to the novel were not primarily intellectual but emotional and spiritual. The overwhelming sense I got as I read BK was that here is an author and a book that take themselves seriously. Dostoevsky is not satisfied with anything trivial or small and does not shrink from such questions as the meaning of life or the existence of God. There is something profoundly refreshing and enjoyable about reading a book that casts its net wide.
Having completed the book, I also found it remarkably difficult to summarize what exactly it is "about." The simple answer is that it's a murder mystery. In reality, it becomes almost a parable of humanity: Ivan, the intellectual brother; Dmitry, the passionate brother; Alyosha, the pious brother; Smerdyakov, the vengeful servant/half-brother. Each bears responsibility for his father's murder; each struggles to learn how to live a life of meaning.
In the end, we each identify with the brothers Karamazov. We become them, and Dostoevsky asks us to share in their passions, their doubts, their faith, and their guilt. As a result, reading The Brothers Karamazov thoughtfully is, as many other reviewers have pointed out, a transformative experience.
Some authors write for themselves: to add to their reputation or to give birth to an artistic creation they've been gestating. Dostoevsky had plenty of talent and was subject to fits of inspiration, but he wrote only when he thought he had something important to say. In this novel, his subject is no less than humanity itself and, given the patience and effort to digest his writing, you will learn.
on September 11, 2002
The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of this the greatest novel ever written (pace Henry James) has been justly praised by eminent Dostoevsky scholars who, presumably, read Russian. I do not. But I have read this in another translation and have since gone on to read this teams other translations. I recommend them to anyone as the versions to get. The particular thing I like most is the prose style which emphasizes the ironically comic nature of this novel's narration and characters. The Brothers Karamazov are some of the most *intensely intense* and violent and unpredictable and spiritually tortured a group of boys you're likely ever to meet in literature. The Pevear-Volokhonsky's have rendered this most effectively. The Everyman's library is an attractive alternative to the excellent paperback. It's got that classic, cloth cover look at an excellent price. The softcover version is good too, if a little wieldy. Highest recommendation.