The Brothers Karamazov – 2: An Inappropriate Gathering

Click here for other installments in this review series…

Oh, yes, I am still reading this book.  It’s a quick read; I simply haven’t been reading very frequently.

Case in point: book II is almost entirely the dialogue that takes place when the Karamazov family comes together at (of all places) the monastery.  Dialogue is to Dostoyevsky what narrative is to Kafka.  Characters talk on for paragraphs, and it starts out sensibly enough, only to end in a vastly different topic.  That’s the beauty of it, though: it sets the cogwheels of your mind turning so you’re never quite bored.

By the way, I am loving this translation (Pevear/Volokhonsky).  Translation is such a wildly disputed topic, too much so, perhaps.  I enjoyed the Alan Myers translation of The Idiot, and Constance Garnett’s Notes from Underground was quite good.  What really shines in Pevear/Volokhonsky is the emotional subtext.  That is, the narrator’s voice – often tinged with sarcasm – comes through strongly, and all the characters are brought up to a new level, as a result.  In tone, it’s a great mix of modern and Victorian, nothing too jarring.  Having previously read some sad translations of Jules Verne, I am greatly impressed with this so far.

Back to topic, I’m not sorry The Idiot was my first Dostoyevsky, but The Brothers Karamazov has a much stronger introduction.  Book II is so weird, it’s got me pretty intrigued.  Via the strange conflict between the father (Fyodor) and his son, Dmitri, we have it where the plot seems obvious, yet there is enough uncertainty to propel it forward.  (There was also a scene that is possibly premonitory, though again, just vague enough to keep you wondering.)

What is the purpose of this book II?  The father made an utter embarrassment of himself – no surprise.  Actually, I was surprised he went so far.  I love how the reader can sort of “soak in” the awkwardness through the character of Pyotr Miusov, whom we must also thank for the few laughs in this part.  Secondly, I appreciate the down-to-earth portrayal of the monks.  It’s a rare circumstance to read about well-written religious characters, let alone clerics.  Father Zosima and even Rakitin come across as pretty realistic.  The Father Superior’s reaction to Fyodor’s scene was also a great bit of writing.

One more thing – I found it interesting that Rakitin teased Alyosha, half-questioning and half-telling him he must be the same as his brothers and father, a “sensualist.”  I have misgivings about the future of Alyosha, more maybe than I had about Myshkin.  Bracing myself…I just hate watching good characters get into trouble.


  1. I'm reading The Idiot right now and it's my first Dostoyevsky. Oh, how I agree with you about the rambling dialogue but apparently it's with a purpose.I think with some books, translation is very important and with others, not so much; it depends on the book. Both The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment are high on my TBR list. I am glad that I am reading The Idiot first though, as Dostoyevsky takes a little getting used to. Glad to see you back posting again, Marian! πŸ™‚


  2. After Crime and Punishment, I am a Dostoyevsky fan. I bought copies of The Brother's Karamazov and The Idiot b/c I read someone else's posts about them, but I haven't read them, yet. Now I am seriously wondering if I should not just dive into BK this year! After your post, I am tempted not to wait any longer. P.S. All of my Dostoyevskys (is that how you spell plural Dostoyevsky?) are Garnett translations; and she also translated Anna Karenina, too. I found her translations really enjoyable.


  3. Thanks, cleo – I hope to be posting more often now. πŸ™‚ Looking forward to your review of The Idiot! Now that I think about it, technically Crime & Punishment was my first Dostoyevsky, but I could not finish it at the time. πŸ˜› Someday I will read it through, but I sense it is the overrated novel.


  4. Everyone I have talked with loved BK, so I have pretty high expectations for this one. πŸ™‚ At least Dostoyevsky's chunksters are also page-turners!


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