Probably the best book ever. Written by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the story concerns three brothers, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alexei. One is a soldier, one is an intellectual, and the other is a monk. Their father is murdered, and Dmitri is charged with the crime. I won't spoil the ending by saying if he did it. Not that it matters, since the real themes of the book are morality, fidelity, love, hatred, apathy, and just about any topic that has ever concerned humanity. A work without peer.

A fantastic way to spend a year. Despite its length and complexity, Fyodor Dostoevsky creates another stirring psychological novel. If everything were a novel on human nature with a great plot, it would be TBK. It is the story of a very passionate family, with three brothers representing the three main components of the person: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. Dostoevsky uses them and others to model the human condition.

This book is large. It is translated from 19th Century Russian. If you are in a class, or are a very good/intuitive reader, you will be able to understand the book, assuming you can stand to read it. I read it in 12th grade humanities, in which we spent six weeks on it. This was, by far the toughest book I have ever read, and in the end was worth it, but it's something I will have to re-read someday to get the full effect of it.

A good, quick description of the book (aside from those above) is to do this: name every aspect of humanity that you can think of, and you will be able to find Dostoevsky's ten page analysis of said aspect in this book. The essence and most meaningful part of the whole book, to me, was a later chapter entitled The Grand Inquisitor. This is one of the toughest chapters to read, though it is only 15 pages. I read it five times and still can re-read it again and not fully understand the breadth of humanity which he covers in these words.

The Brothers Karamazov is a highly recommended reading for everyone, in some point of your life. That is, if you care to read Dostoevsky's take on humanity, which I can only hope and aspire to achieve in my short lifetime.

If you want to read the book, an online version is available at Enjoy!

The Brothers Karamazov

by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky (1821-1881)

The Setting

My interest in this book was piqued when a well known local named it as his favorite work of literature in a interview on TV. I guess that's as good a reason as any other. I read an at least century old translation by Constance Garnett who translated many of Dostoevskys works. Dostoevsky hardly needs an introduction but I think it is in order to say something about the circumstances in which the book was written. There are countless speculations about the external circumstances of the writing of The Brothers Karamazov, it's ulterior message and I'll try to address my own later on without revealing to much of the story. It is written roughly between 1877 and 1880, when Dostoevsky was pushing sixty living a quiet life in the small town of Staraya Russa in the Novgorod region situated with Moscow to the north-west and St. Petersburg in the south-east. These were times of great advances in almost every field of human knowledge, a few noteworthy happenings around the same time:

  • 1848 - Karl Marx and Frederick Engels publish The Communist Manifesto
  • 1848-1856 - The Crimean War rages
  • 1856 - Darwin publishes On the origin of the species
  • 1861 - Emancipation of the serfs
  • 1867 - Russia sells Alaska to the U.S.
  • 1870-1871 - Sees the Franco-Prussian war
  • 1871 - Dmitri Mendeleev devises the (revolutionary but perpetually incomplete) Periodic Table of the Elements
  • 1877-1878 - the Russo-Turkish War breaks out in the Balkans
  • Industrialization was gaining momentum. It had been more than three decades since Dostoevsky published his debut novel Poor Folk in 1846 then 25 years old. For all intents and purposes I believe The Brothers Karamazov might be considered his crowning achievement, although most might be quicker to associate Crime and Punishment with him. It is his longest and last book.

    Notable Russian contemporary writers include
  • Alexandr Pushkin (1799-1837)
  • Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852)
  • Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)
  • Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)
  • Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)
  • Maxim Gorky (1868-1936).
  • The story takes place in the town of Skotoprigonevsk, the neighbouring town Mokroe and their immediate surroundings. Skotoprigonevsk is thought to be modeled after the town of Staraya Russa where Dostoevsky spent his last years. Moscow and St. Petersburg are understandibly referred to as the "big influential cities" on some occasions but my impression is that the story could have taken place in any little town.

    A plot that cuts both ways

    In a work as encompassing in its description of human behaviour as this book is it is only too easy to recognise a plethora of motifs. I feel that enumerating some of them would be an inexcusable simplification. Something like presenting a recipe for a big dinner that only lists the ingredients needed. What I propose to do is give an inconclusive narrative of the storyline, so as not to spoil it for those who haven't read it and then present two (yes only two) intepretations. Symbolism is of the essence and so in good humour I have chosen to title them macro and micro.

    Boiling it all down to a paragraph
    The surviving members of a family are reunited. The father and his 3 or 4 sons. The sons are all twentysomething and each one is of a different mind than the other. The youngest believes his future to be as a servant of god. The middle brother has grave inner conflicts of ideologies. The oldest one is material and likes the good life, he wants the same woman as his father. The father is murdered half way through. The oldest brother is accused of it, an investigation and finally a trial follows. There are many marginal stories and characters intwined. It is not easy to decide their importance. In the end a man is found guilty and a motive is established, but the story does not end there...

    The contemporary Russian people, indeed from the lowliest beggar to the Tsar himself, are portrayed in all their collective glory.

    Dostoevsky tells us the story of his life. He lost both his mother when he was sixteen and his father two years later. He was educated in Moscow and in a military academy as an engineer. He was sentenced (probably wrongfully?) to death for revolutionary activity but it was reduced to hard labour in Siberia. He was an epileptic himeself. There are numerous other resemblances.


    Part I
    • Book I - The History of a Family
      • Chapter 1 - Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov
      • Chapter 2 - He Gets Rid of His Eldest Son
      • Chapter 3 - The Second Marriage and the Second Family
      • Chapter 4 - The Third Son, Alyosha
      • Chapter 5 - Elders
    • Book II - An Unfortunate Gathering
      • Chapter 1 - They Arrive at the Monastery
      • Chapter 2 - The Old Buffoon
      • Chapter 3 - Peasant Women Who Have Faith
      • Chapter 4 - A Lady of Little Faith
      • Chapter 5 - So Be It! So Be It!
      • Chapter 6 - Why Is Such a Man Alive?
      • Chapter 7 - A Young Man Bent on a Career
      • Chapter 8 - The Scandalous Scene
    • Book III - The Sensualists
      • Chapter 1 - In the Servants' Quarters
      • Chapter 2 - Lizaveta
      • Chapter 3 - The Confession of a Passionate Heart -- in Verse
      • Chapter 4 - The Confession of a Passionate Heart -- In Anecdote
      • Chapter 5 - The Confession of a Passionate Heart -- "Heels Up"
      • Chapter 6 - Smerdyakov
      • Chapter 7 - The Controversy
      • Chapter 8 - Over the Brandy
      • Chapter 9 - The Sensualists
      • Chapter 10 - Both Together
      • Chapter 11 - Another Reputation Ruined
    Part II
    • Book IV - Lacerations
      • Chapter 1 - Father Ferapont
      • Chapter 2 - At His Father's
      • Chapter 3 - A Meeting with the Schoolboys
      • Chapter 4 - At the Hohlakovs'
      • Chapter 5 - A Laceration in the Drawing-Room
      • Chapter 6 - A Laceration in the Cottage
      • Chapter 7 - And in the Open Air
    • Book V - Pro and Contra
      • Chapter 1 - The Engagement
      • Chapter 2 - Smerdyakov with a Guitar
      • Chapter 3 - The Brothers Make Friends
      • Chapter 4 - Rebellion
      • Chapter 5 - The Grand Inquisitor1
      • Chapter 6 - For Awhile a Very Obscure One
      • Chapter 7 - "It's Always Worth While Speaking to a Clever Man"
    • Book VI - The Russian Monk
      • Chapter 1 - Father Zossima and His Visitors
      • Chapter 2 - Recollections of Father Zossima's Youth before he became a Monk. The Duel
      • Chapter 3 - Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zossima (e) The Russian Monk and his possible Significance
    Part III
    • Book VII - Aloysha
      • Chapter 1 - The Breath of Corruption
      • Chapter 2 - A Critical Moment
      • Chapter 3 - An Onion
      • Chapter 4 - Cana of Galilee
    • Book VIII - Mitya
      • Chapter 1 - Kuzma Samsonov
      • Chapter 2 - Lyagavy
      • Chapter 3 - Gold Mines
      • Chapter 4 - In the Dark
      • Chapter 5 - A Sudden Resolution
      • Chapter 6 - "I Am Coming, Too!"
      • Chapter 7 - The First and Rightful Lover
      • Chapter 8 - Delirium
    • Book IX - The Preliminary Investigation
      • Chapter 1 - The Beginning of Perhotin's Official Career
      • Chapter 2 - The Alarm
      • Chapter 3 - The Sufferings of a Soul
        The First Ordeal
      • Chapter 4 - The Second Ordeal
      • Chapter 5 - The Third Ordeal
      • Chapter 6 - The Prosecutor Catches Mitya
      • Chapter 7 - Mitya's Great Secret Received with Hisses
      • Chapter 8 - The Evidences of the Witnesses. The Babe
      • Chapter 9 - They Carry Mitya Away
    Part IV
    • Book X - The Boys
      • Chapter 1 - Kolya Krassotkin
      • Chapter 2 - Children
      • Chapter 3 - The Schoolboy
      • Chapter 4 - The Lost Dog
      • Chapter 5 - By Ilusha's Bedside
      • Chapter 6 - Precocity
      • Chapter 7 - Ilusha
    • Book XI - Ivan
      • Chapter 1 - At Grushenka's
      • Chapter 2 - The Injured Foot
      • Chapter 3 - A Little Demon
      • Chapter 4 - A Hymn and a Secret
      • Chapter 5 - Not You, Not You!
      • Chapter 6 - The First Interview with Smerdyakov
      • Chapter 7 - The Second Visit to Smerdyakov
      • Chapter 8 - The Third and Last Interview with Smerdyakov
      • Chapter 9 - The Devil. Ivan's Nightmare
      • Chapter 10 - "It Was He Who Said That"
    • Book XII - A Judical Error
      • Chapter 1 - The Fatal Day
      • Chapter 2 - Dangerous Witnesses
      • Chapter 3 - The Medical Experts and a Pound of Nuts
      • Chapter 4 - Fortune Smiles on Mitya
      • Chapter 5 - A Sudden Catastrophe
      • Chapter 6 - The Prosecutor's Speech. Sketches of Character
      • Chapter 7 - An Historical Survey
      • Chapter 8 - A Treatise on Smerdyakov
      • Chapter 9 - The Galloping Troika. The End of the Prosecutor's Speech
      • Chapter 10 - The Speech for the Defence. An Argument that Cuts Both Ways
      • Chapter 11 - There Was No Money. There Was No Robbery
      • Chapter 12 - And There Was No Murder Either
      • Chapter 13 - A Corrupter of Thought
      • Chapter 14 - The Peasants Stand Firm
      • Chapter 1 - Plans for Mitya's Escape
      • Chapter 2 - For a Moment the Lie Becomes Truth
      • Chapter 3 - Ilusha's Funeral. The Speech at the Stone


    name (nickname if any)
    note that many are unaccounted for

    Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov

    Twice a widower, father of Dmitri, Ivan, Alexey and possibly Smerdyakov. Landowner who is fairly well off, moderately rich even. Known for debaucheries and lack of morals. It is no secret that he is competing with his son Mitya for the attentions of Grushenka and that they argue often and heatedly about her and/or money. He is murdered halfway through the story which is a central turning point.

    Dmitri Fyodorovich Karamazov (Mitya)

    Oldest of the brothers, son of Fyodor and Adelaida Miusov his first wife who later runs off and dies of sickness. Completely neglected by his father, Mitya is raised by the servant Grigory and his wife Marfa. Mitya returned to his home after studying at a military school. Rash and vain but of good intentions, madly in love with Grushenka just like his old man.

    Ivan Fyodorovich Karamazov

    The middle brother, son of Fyodor and his luckless second wife Sofya Ivanovna who died when Ivan and Aloysha were very young. They were raised by their mothers' old "benefactress" who was strict in her upbringing. Ivan studied at a college and was generally knowledgable about most matters academic. He had written several papers and essays and returned home for reasons unknown. He and his father got along fairly well although they had never been close.

    Alexey Fyodorovich Karamazov (Aloysha)

    The youngest brother and, like Ivan, only half-brother to Dmitri (and Smerdyakov). Dostoevsky proclaims him the storys main protagonist. A reoccurring point in the novel is that only babes are truly innocent. Children too inexpirienced and therefore uncorrupt. Aloysha is the incarnation of that goodness. He is mild, chaste, unjudgmental, intelligent, loved, and respected unequivocally. He is the mentor of Father Zossima who Aloysha holds dearest of all men. But as it later turns out, life of fasting and wandering around in robes is not meant for Aloysha.

    The pasts of the "legitimate" brothers is told in Book I - The History of a Family

    Pavel Fyodorovich Smerdyakov (Smerdyakov)

    The epileptic son of "stinking Lizaveta" the mute, town idiot who died while giving birth to him in a shed by Fyodor's manor. The identity of the father was never confirmed it is an unspoken certainty. He, also, is brought up by Grigory the loyal servant and his wife Marfa. When he grows older he is sent to Moscow to learn how to cook. He is a silent and morose type of person, almost sullen. He is first introduced in Book III - The Sensualists but his role becomes more and more involved as the story progresses.

    Grigory Kutuzov and his wife Marfa Ignatyevna

    Stoic servant of the manor and who lives in an outhouse right by the manor. Hard working, stubborn, unquestioning and simple. They have very little to contribute, especially Marfa who I don't think has a single sentance in all the book.

    Father Zossima

    The elder at the monastery who is Aloysha's mentor. He is reputed in the region for his wisdom, true faith and some say healing powers. Amongst the flock there are some who envy him for his reputation. Book VI - The Russian Monk tells of his life before he became a monk.

    Agrafena Alexandrovna (Grushenka)

    Young woman who was betrayed by her betrothed a few years back and thereby shamed her family. She is beautiful, extremely proud and fiercely independent. A sorry sort of a love triangle is created when both Dmitri and Fyodor fall hopelessly in love with her. Dmitri young but penniless and Fyodor old but rich. Dmitri, having all his life been dependant on his father's generosity is driven near mad with fear that she might choose Fyodor.

    Katerina Ivanovna Verkhovtsev

    Young noblewoman of intelligence and wealth. She was to be betrothed to Dmitri but then suddenly he met Grushenka. Ivan likes her alot.

    Liza Katerinovna Khoklakhov (Lise)

    Teenage daughter of a local noblewoman, paralysed from waist down and therefore confined to a wheel chair. Rather cooky as a result of being holed up in an estate with her mother all her life. Aloysha is a freind of hers as well as her mother's and so are Ivan and Dmitri.

    Nikolai Ilyich Snegiryov

    Retired army captain . Father in a large family of unfortunates. Mitya beats him badly in a drunken rage accusing Nikolai of being one of his fathers henchmen. This has unforeseen consequences.

    Ilyusha Nikolaevich Snegiryov

    Son of Nikolai, a schoolboy who gets picked on a lot because his father gets beaten by Dmitri.

    Nikolai Ivanovich Krasotkin (Kolya)

    Freind of Ilyusha and classmate. A daring young boy, he gained notoriety by laying down motionless between railway tracks while a train passed. He is a socialist and very promising.

    1 This chapter, in another translation than the one I've reviewed, is a short story told by Ivan to Aloysha. I read somewhere that it is Laura Bush's favorite piece of literature. Note that The Brothers Karamazov is in the public domain.
    Any suggestions for corrections or improvements are welcome

    I was twelve years old when I started reading The Brothers Karamazov, fifteen when I finished and nineteen when I understood it. What was a twelve year old doing reading Dostoyevsky? Well, I'm not particularly smart. I think I'm above average, but so does everyone else, and if I am above average I'm definitely the dumbest of the smart. I wasn't particularly interested in reading it either, I was more into sci-fi, fantasy and humour when I was young. The reason I was reading it is because my father told me to. I had just finished reading 'Mostly Harmless' and since that was a book for adults and intellectuals I thought I was top-shit. So to cut me down a peg my father gave me 'The Brothers Karamazov' to read.

    The book was wasted on such a young child, although it did help me humiliate my grade six English teacher who insisted that putting 'The End' at the end of a story was idiotic (or at least, slightly redundant) and only mediocre authors did it.

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