I have not been much exposed to Dostoevsky except for a few short stories (In fact except for a bit from Tolstoy and Gogol, I have somehow skipped the Russian writing altogether). I have liked Dostoevsky’s short stories, and so his megalith had been on my reading wishlist and on my shelf for sometime now. I am glad I picked it up finally, for it was definitely amongst my top ten reads this year.
It is a story of parricide, where a son is accused of murdering his father, and the conservative Russia is aghast at such a heinous crime. (I suppose such an overt crime will raise contempt even today, despite the apparent apathy which has been cultivated through over-exposure to all kinds of horrifying crimes). However, this book can barely be summed as a book of crime or a courtroom drama, even though it has elements of both. Dostoevsky has added everything: a little bit of mystery-as the actual murder is never shared with the reader, a little bit of romance, some philanthropy, some religion, some sociology and a lot of philosophy and psychology. To think of it, he hardly left anything. Except perhaps science fiction, which he replaced it with mysticism and prophecy.
As is expected from such a heavy tome (my edition was 1040 pages long!), there were a few sub-plots and each was given a lot of detailing. The story began two days before the murder, and I had finished almost 600 pages before even the whiff of murder appeared. The narrator gives a detailed account of the movements of the brothers, their conversation amongst themselves, their conversation with others, the entangled love stories, the family drama and the religious discourses at a monastery in town. However, it is to Dostoevsky’s credit that he would exit the detailing just when it began to get arduous, though the sheer length of the book did ask for a lot of reader’s patience.
I liked the narration of the book. Most of the time the narrator pretended to be another resident of Staraya Russa (the town in which the novel is set), giving an account of the happenings. But this did not prevent him to be omniscient, omnipresent and completely aware of even the most intimate discussions amongst the characters.
Apart from the main plot, the book outlines a religious debate and explores the question of existence of God. Ivan, one of the Karamazov brothers who seem to have done a lot of rational thinking, gets into many such discussions. He also argues the rationality of having a system of justice separate from the justice of church (or God), and the book seems to subtly raise the same concerns with its plot.
Brothers Karamazov, apparently is the masterpiece that Dostoevsky hoped to write before meeting his end. He put in a lot of himself in his last work, including his own grief upon his son’s death. The grief finds expression in the sequence of the captain and his dying son Illyusha. The benign hero of the novel, Alyosha is also named after Dostoevsky’s departed son. It is believed that the death changed both Dostoevsky’s mind frame and the course of this novel significantly. Though it did not prevent Dostoevsky from writing the signature masterpiece.