Monday, December 26, 2005

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, (Translated by Constance Garnett)

A deep, psychological, verbose masterpiece!

The Brothers Karamazov is said to be the greatest and last novel written by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In reading the novel, one discovers why so. The novel is set in nineteenth century Russia, and deals with the story of three brothers, Dmitri, Ivan and Alyosha, and the events surrounding the murder of their father Fyodor Kamarazov. The father is a drunkard baffoon, who spares no thoughts or money to his sons, and leads a life of sexual exploits, orgies and drunken revelry. Dmitri, born to Fyodor's first wife, returns to his hometown to seek money from his father, but gets enchanted by Grushenka, who his father lusts for and threatens to win over by the poer of his money. The sensual Dmitri, a former captain of the army, was earlier bethrothed to beautiful Katrina, who he wishes to leave in wake of his intense passion for Grushenka. The brother Ivan, an intellectual stars in the three most famous chapters of the book: Rebellion, the Grand Inquisitor and the Devil; where Dostovesky presents arguments against existence of God and discusses the genesis and futility of evil; the three chapters that on their own could have made the name of the Dostovesky as famous as it is. Ivan formulates arguments that both amaze and befuddle the reader and the reader finds himself tormented by the existential, ethical and theological questions that surface everywhere in the novel. Ivan falls for Katrina.

Dostovesky calls Alyosha the hero of the novel. Alyosha is an idealist, a believer, a charming young fellow who would was all set on becoming a monk, till his mentor and guide Father Zossima asked him to return to the worldly life. The landscape is full of a range of other characters: Grigory and his wife Marya, devoted servants of Fyodor, who bring up an illegitimate, epileptic son of Fyodor, called Smerdyakov; the wealthy townswoman Madame Hohlakov, whose near cripple daughter Lise is engaged to Alyosha for some period of time; Rakitin, a character who full of big talk and shallow personality and two kids Koyla and Illusha.

The novel centers around the events leading to and after the murder of Fyodor, whereby Dostovesky creates a highly engaging and yet pretty verbose analysis of the crime, parricide, providing his deep psychological analysis of characters and endless references from Christian texts. The last few chapters where he weaves courtroom drama provides the right climax to this highly challenging piece of work.

The brilliance of Dostovesky is in making his reader undergo the same fever, same fervour that a criminal is faced with. The depth of portrayal is such that one is continuously full of the characters and the questions that surround their existence: for these questions are eternal questions that confound the reader. While the story is a gripping tale of murder and courtroom drama, the meat of the novel in the three chapters mentioned, in the discussions about what is right and wrong, in the presentation of various facades of human nature and human passion, in arguments for and against parricide, in the dealing of Alyosha with Illusha and Koyla. The last chapter, where Illusha loses his life, culminates a series of heartwrenching events, and this particular chapter is perhaps one of the best pieces arousing pathos in literature. The reader is just washed by the torrent of sorrow, and in a certain sense, Dostovesky succeeds in leading the reader through a sort of catharisis, ending in certain tears and an understanding that Christ-like love and purity of soul symbolized by Illusha and Alyosha is bound to prevail, to save our soul and society.

The novel is also an excellent read in terms of insights it offers into the ethical, social and philosophical ideas present in Russia towards the end of nineteenth century. In that respect, it presents a case study of the undercurrents in the Russian society, the seeds and spread of socialism and well as the nature and depth of belief in church, miracles and God. The novel is also a part-time love story, where the flaring passions are so intense as to drive characters to the brink of madness, to the edge of chaos, to extremes of happiness and sorrow.

Reading Dostovesky is like undergoing catharisis, tortuous and painful, and precisely so he is a must read for everyone who ventures into deeper questions surrounding the humanity.

1 comment:

Vani said...

Hey Vivek..

Hoow r u doing..???
am able to access the net only after a gap of 2 whole weeks..!!

the engagement was perfect..!!;-)
also spent some time with Chirayu's family in Bhavnagar...felt like home already..!!hehe...

will b back soon...with lots of pics n stories to share..
till then

take care

(by d way just finished reading Mark Haddon's.."The curious incident...."brilliant book..I have bought u can take it from me if u havnt yet read it...)