The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I started with Dostoevsky rather late in my life. The reason of this is because probably the size of his books intimidated me quite a bit. Now that I am in my fourth book of his, I can say with confidence that  he is one of my favorite writers.

Mr. Karamazov is a wealthy man and he’s also a horrible human being. He lies to everyone and is a drunkard, mistreats women, and demonstrates a complete lack of regard for his family, friends, and even himself. Shamelessly, he subjects both himself and his loved ones to public humiliation. Additionally, Mr. Karamazov’s complicated personal life includes three children from two different women: Dimitri, Ivan, and Alexis, each possessing vastly distinct personalities.

In Plato’s “The Republic“, he proposes that the human soul comprises three distinct components: the gold, the silver, and the bronze. The bronze aspect represents the lowest level of our personality, associated with primal instincts such as hunger, sex, and aggression. In contrast, the gold aspect embodies the reasoning and analytical faculties within us. The silver, on the other hand, serves as the mystical or spiritual part, striving to bridge the gap between the gold and the bronze. The silver component struggles to reconcile the rational aspects of our soul with our self-destructive tendencies, working to protect us from our own inner conflicts. In Dostoevsky’s novel, we witness the relentless struggle between extreme forms of good and evil, often driven by motives that appear absurd or elusive to human comprehension.

Within this family dynamic, Dimitri embodies the bronze aspect, displaying a personality akin to that of his father. He engages in the mistreatment of women, indulges in excessive drinking, and exhibits aggressive tendencies. On the other hand, Ivan represents the gold component. Notably intelligent and well-educated, he skillfully crafts persuasive and captivating articles for the newspaper. Although an atheist, Ivan possesses a profound understanding of faith in God, enabling him to challenge the spiritual beliefs held by his younger brother, Alexis. Alexis, in turn, personifies the silver aspect. Leading a contemplative life in a monastery, he actively pursues spirituality. Together, Dimitri, Ivan, and Alexis can be perceived as distinct facets of a unified whole, symbolizing the three components of Dostoevsky’s own complex personality.

The theme with which this book starts is a conflict within this family to decide how Mr Karamazov is going to distribute his inheritance among his children.  The family seeks help from a high rank monk to serve as mediator, or at least to witness the conflict in the Karamazov family. The meeting with the monk turns into a horrible fight in which Mr. Karamazov disrespects the monastery.

Eventually, Mr. Karamazov is murdered and Dimitri is the primary suspect. However, the shocking truth eventually emerges, revealing that the actual perpetrator of the murder is none other than Mr. Karamazov’s illegitimate son, Smerdyakov. Unraveling the complex history, it is discovered that many years prior, Mr. Karamazov had impregnated Smerdyakov’s mother, Lizaveta. Regrettably, Lizaveta, who suffered from speech impairments and mental retardation, passed away during Smerdyakov’s birth, leaving the baby to be raised by Karamazov’s household servants.

In this discussion, my intention is not to provide an exhaustive review, as there are already numerous formidable reviews available. It suffices to say that this novel is truly remarkable. However, I would like to offer a word of caution that warrants elaboration. It pertains not to the novel itself, but rather to the manner in which it is presented to readers, specifically, the translation.

Undoubtedly, since the novel’s publication over 140 years ago, it has been translated into multiple languages countless times. Prior to embarking on my reading journey, I carefully examined four distinct translations and ultimately settled on MacAndrew’s exquisite version from Bantam Classics, 1970. McDuff’s translation from Penguin Books also stands as a good choice. However, it is advisable to steer clear of Pavear’s translation, which some find lacking in capturing the soul and essence of the original text.

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