The Brothers Karamazov–Book review

“As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naïve and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too.”
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Brothers Karamazov quote

In case you weren’t assigned this in high school (I wasn’t) or been industrious enough to read this on your own (it took me 50 years), The Brothers Karamazov is a philosophical novel written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1880. Dostoevsky’s father was murdered when he was a young boy, in adulthood he spent time in prison and in a Siberian labor camp for his political beliefs, and he suffered from epileptic seizures, situations that pop up in this novel in various forms.

The book is set in 19th century Russia, and it tells the story of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three (and likely fourth) sons.

What I didn’t like about The Brothers Karamazov:

  • Dostoyevsky tells stories within the story that have little to no bearing to the larger story (my opinion)
  • It is very, very long
  • It’s hard to follow on audio because you need to flip back too often
  • Several characters have multiple names used interchangeably (and Russian names at that)
  • The speeches by the characters go on and on and on
  • Details are abundant and often totally irrelevant to the plot
  • It is very, very long

But despite it being very, very long (did I mention that?), and other idiosyncrasies, I’m glad I finally read this classic.

What I did like about The Brothers Karamazov:

  • I end up caring about even the worst characters
  • The good characters (like Alyosha, also known as Alexei, Alyoshka, Alyoshenka, Alyoshechka, etc.,  and Father Zosima) inspire me
  • Hearing the names pronounced correctly on the audiobook makes it more fun
  • Redemption is throughout it
  • It doesn’t gloss over ugly motives or doubts
  • Grace ultimately wins over judgment (in weird ways, but still)
  • It continues to grow in me even though I’m finished reading it
  • It’s insightful and spiritual and thought-provoking on matters of faith and morality and reason

But still, it’s long, just so you know. (Could it have been shortened and retained the same effect? According to my 2014 internet-altered mindset, yes.)

Is it worth reading anyway?
Take a few months and plunge in, even if only a little at a time. You’ll be glad you did.

A sampling from the book (without giving away the story):

“He suddenly recalled how he had once in the past been asked, ‘Why do you hate so and so, so much?’ And he had answered them, with his shameless impudence, ‘I’ll tell you. He has done me no harm. But I played him a dirty trick, and ever since I have hated him.’”

“Alyosha was delighted that he had brought him such happiness and that the poor fellow had consented to be made happy.”

“‘And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return Him the ticket.’”
‘That’s rebellion,’ murmured Alyosha, looking down.”

“At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men’s sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.”

“But after all, what is goodness? Answer me that, Alexey. Goodness is one thing with me and another with a Chinaman, so it’s a relative thing. Or isn’t it? Is it not relative? A treacherous question!”

“Ah, children, ah, dear friends, don’t be afraid of life! How good life is when one does something good and just!”

* * *

22 thoughts on “The Brothers Karamazov–Book review

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      We do have to be selective at this stage of life. 🙂 I want my reading hours to count. It helped that we were on the road a lot in June (and I wasn’t driving–an important caveat!).

  1. Barbara H.

    You did a good job of pointing out the good and bad. One thing I forgot to mention in my review is that I had trouble liking or caring about the story or characters at first because I couldn’t identify with anyone except with Alyosha in some degree. So many people given to passionate and often absurd outbursts! It took a good amount of time before I began really sympathizing with the characters. I am very glad I stuck with it and finally read a Dostoyevsky book!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Me, too, Barbara. I may not read another of his books, but at least I read this one. ha.

      It was hard for me to connect with even the story for a long while; I kept waiting for “the event” to happen that was foreshadowed. And yes, they definitely were very passionate! I didn’t know if that was a Russian thing in general or a Dostoyevsky thing or what.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I used to have Crime and Punishment on my mental list, but it never made it to my real list. After reading The Brothers K, I think I’ll leave it on the mental list a little while longer. 🙂 Good luck to you reading either or both!

  2. David

    The good old days when novels really /were/ novels! 🙂

    I don’t generally go for novels of ideas – where each character represents some principle – I find them sterile and slightly inhuman, but Karamazov was very moving for me. Long time ago, but I think I wanted to be like Alyosha but was too much like Ivan.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That definitely was a real novel, I must say. 🙂 I’m guessing readers back in his day were more patient than we are now–a failing on our part to want everything too quickly.

      I want to be more like Alyosha too, but I have much more self-centeredness than he had written into him. God’s still working on our stories though….

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think I’ve seen a copy of War and Peace around here somewhere (I was probably optimistic at a yard sale one day) and it might be even longer than The Brothers Karamazov. So you’re a better woman than me to have finished that one! 🙂 I don’t think I’ll even think of starting it. ha.

      1. Darlene @ Lost in Literature

        I have a friend who claims it took him about ten years to read War and Peace but says it was the most incredible piece of literature he ever encountered.
        It better be, if your gonna stick with it for that long.:)

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          Hmm…hearing comments like that always pique my interest. Maybe I shouldn’t totally give up on ever reading War and Peace. But 10 years? Wowsa. ha. Yeah, I agree it better be good after that investment! 🙂

  3. Beverley

    Congratulations! It is good to finish a book that is very very long!

    I have been meaning to read Moby Dick but again it’s long, i get lost in it and so i have it on audio from the library to see if i can listen to it instead.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Beverley. Yes, it did feel good to finish it; I felt a greater sense of accomplishment precisely because it was longer and harder to read. 🙂

      I think I started the original Moby Dick once, but switched to an easier version pretty quickly. Books with heavy detail are just harder for me to get sucked into. Length alone isn’t a deterrent, but too much descriptions can be for me.

  4. Nancy

    It must be a Russian 19th century thing – long, many confusing names, seemingly irrelevant subplots, long speeches. I remember Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina being the same way; it took me 3 tries to finally read it, and most of a year when I finally did! I’m glad I did, and I may try War and Peace some day … or the Spark Notes.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I think if I attempt anything else like this, it’d probably be Anna Karenina. Well, actually I have Les Miserables on my list as my next long novel, but I’m reading Chasing Francis first as a buffer. 🙂

      And yay for Spark Notes! I should return to them for Atlas Shrugged. I started it last year and just couldn’t make myself care enough about the characters to finish. But I would like to know what happened to them in the end.

  5. Darlene @ Lost in Literature

    Fantastic review!! And I agree with so much of it!
    I too was challenged with all the interchanging of the names, but once you know it, it flows better.
    And it did continue to grow in me afterwards too. Sometimes that’s how I can tell that I read an excellent piece of literature…it sticks with me and I think about it more and more. Even if I wasn’t loving the experience as I was going through it.
    I found a lady on Youtube who did lectures on it while I was reading, but we were never in the same place in the book for me to follow.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I was trying to explain to my husband last night why I’m glad I read this book, even though I was bored with parts of it at the time I was reading it. I should have just read him your comment instead. 🙂 Thanks, Darlene!

      1. Darlene @ Lost in Literature

        I don’t know if you ever read A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken or not, but it was the same way with that one. It was such a chore to read, but when I was done I was like..
        “That was profound!” It was so incredibly meaningful and it made such an impression on me but while I was reading it I was like…”oh my gosh….this chapter is soooo long…let’s get on with this!”

        So, there’s another recommendation for you.:)

        1. LisaNotes Post author

          Oh yes, Darlene! I actually did read A Severe Mercy a few years ago. There were times I thought this is so boring, but then whammo! a good part would come and leave me thinking it was an awesome book. That’s the thought I ended with. I gave my copy away though; I need to find another one sometimes for a re-read.

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