Customer Reviews of The Brothers Karamazov
I'm not going to comment on the novel itself - I don't think anyone just casually stumbles on a book so famous, you already know something about what you're getting into. But I have to say this translation is the best I've read. I started with the Signet edition and switched to this one about 1/3 of the way through, and the improvement was obvious. A friend was reading the Oxford edition at the same time as me, and I preferred this one to the Oxford too. I found this translation to be very lively, with natural and believable storytelling. It also had a lot of little sylistic oddities that the Signet translation didn't - I assume they tried to "polish" Dostoevsky's writing style at the expense of his interesting voice. So if you want to read Karamazov but don't know what version to buy, get this one.
get the Andrew MacAndrew translation
Andrew MacAndrew's translation of the "Brothers Karamazov" (1970; the one that's been used for the past couple of decades for the Bantam paperback) is, I submit, far and away the best that has been done into English since Dostoevsky's book was published in about 1880. It reads naturally and does not contain too much slang.
NOTES ON OTHER TRANSLATIONS:
* The translation by Constance Garnett (many editions): Avoid it! High-toned and dense. Will make reading "The Brothers Karamazov" far more difficult than it has to be. People who are into Dostoevsky really detest this translation: it's tough going: stale and stuffy throughout. When will this thing die?
* The Pevear and Volokhonsky version (ISBN: 0374528373). Several scholars of Dostoevsky have come out saying this is the "most faithful" translation to date, as the book's jacket does not neglect to point out. However, other equally well-respected scholars have complained that it is breezy and inaccurate.
* The David MacDuff job (Penguin, ISBN: 0140449248). Serviceable but not sparkling. Also a bit slangy. It does, however, do a great job with the footnotes.
* The Ignat Avsey effort (Oxford World Classics: ISBN: 0192835092). I confess to never having negotiated this particular one, and can only warn you that it, like Garnett's above, is British English.
* There is another edition I'm aware of: The translation by Louis Hechenbleikner and the Princess Alexandra Kropotkin, which first came out in 1949 and for which W. Somerset Maugham wrote the introduction. The translation has a fair reputation, but the problem is that it is so thoroughly out of print that you'd probably have to search through rare book shops to find it.
Bottom line: MacAndrew's read most swiftly and naturally for me. It's like you're not even reading something that has been translated!
(Note that Amazon's page on the MacAndrew edition The Brothers Karamazov (Bantam Classics) gives the impression, at least in declaring that the book is "by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Konstantin Mochulsky" that Konstantin Mochulski is the translator. Not the case: Mochulsky merely wrote the 10-page introduction. The translator is still Andrew MacAndrew.)
Anyhow. Happy reading, folks!
I occupy myself with this mystery because I want to be a man
Anyone interested in the central question facing mankind will find `The Brothers Karamazov' an essential guide. That question--on man's capacity for responsibility and the proper role of the state and religion--is posed throughout the story in dialogue and events, and is framed neatly in a 20-page section where Ivan presents a poem titled `The Grand Inquisitor' to his brother Alyosha. The chapter that bears that title (Book V, Chapter V) is a masterpiece in itself and should be studied for its narrative technique alone. But the ideas it presents are so immense, so mind-blowing and inspirational, that literary criticism is not sufficient.
Indeed, `The Brothers Karamazov' should not be classed merely as a novel--it is a book of philosophy, theology, and sociology as well that ranks with the greatest documents in those disciplines. There is a fictitious plot, of course, and the characters in the story are some of the most unique in all of literature, so it is rightly praised as a novel. But the modern reader looking for a plot of twists and romantic intrigues is bound to disappointment. Dostoevsky does not stir up drama through the placement of unexpected developments or improbable character traits. Instead, he relies on the inherent needs and wants of all men to make vivid his story.
The amount of dialogue may be shocking (tedious) to one accustomed to the modern show-don't-tell policy in storytelling. Today, novelists and screenwriters let a character's actions speak for them--it is quicker and provides a much more convincing impression. It also limits the kind of ideas that are posed in the story to simple, prosaic ones like `she likes him' or `he wants to defeat him.' By contrast, Dostoevsky allows the characters to speak for themselves, which creates a much longer and subtler exposition, but also frees the ideas to be vast and monumental.
What is the fundamental nature of socialism? What are the uses of the church in finding purpose? In finding salvation? Why is there suffering? What is the meaning of death? Read the brothers' dialogues and contemplate.
Dostoevsky's own philosophy is seen in the protagonist, Alyosha. This is so despite the fact that the author ably covers every perspective on every topic presented in the book, and one can hardly find a positive assertion throughout. If there is one, it rests in the overall effect of the words and actions, a concept Dostoevsky articulated in a personal correspondence--it is that "Man is a mystery; if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then do not say that you have wasted your time."
A word about the translations: The title of Book IV has been translated differently in every version I have seen (other chapter titles are also inconsistent, but Book IV is seemingly the most difficult to agree on). The original Russian is `Nadryvy,' which literally translates to `Ruptures,' though no translations I have seen use `Ruptures.' The word is used throughout the book to convey the motif of `pressures' or `strained conditions about to break.' The various options I have seen for this title are `Lacerations' (Garnett), `Strains' (Pevear & Volkhonsky), `Torment' (MacAndrew), `Crises' (Avsey), and `Crack-Ups' (McDuff). Given this is a central theme, the potential reader might look into which translation he prefers before buying. Apropos, the Princess Alexandra Kropotkin print version bears the Garnett translation, as does the Frederick Davidson audio recording.
This is one of the greatest books ever not written in Dactylic Hexameter, authored by one of the finest novelists who has ever lived. It is a masterwork of storytelling which inquires into such topics as morality, mortality, the veracity of religion as well as some of the possible ethical implications of a universe minus an omnipotent and benevolent creator. And, of course (for those scoring at home) it also contains Ivan's infamous allegory of the "Grand Inquisitor."
The novel centers around the denizens of a small Russian town. The way in which D weaves their life stories together reminds me a lot of Thomas Mann's "Buddenbrooks." Within the story one can find representatives from almost every walk of life, from the arrogant and proud to the curious and inquisitive to the slothful and pernicious. In many ways, Dimytri and the father represent Nietzsche's exegesis on the Dionysian, countered against the Apollonian outlook of Ivan. Alexie is somewhere in the middle. But one will understand all of this much better by reading the book.
As is the case with Shakespeare's "King Lear," Foucault's "Discipline And Punish," Camus' "The Plague" and Hesse' "Beneath The Wheel," there are scenes within this novel that will stay with the reader for the rest of his / her life. Leading the tragic, difficult and mostly unhappy life that he did, Dostoyevsky knew a great deal more about human cruelty and human suffering than the lot of us. One can easily see just how much his sojourn in Siberia as well as his bout with epilepsy influenced his writings.
For those ambitious enough to experience this magnificent literary accomplishment be warned: it is one of the most powerful texts you will ever read. It is literature's counterpart to plutonium. A wonderful book for atheists, theologians, scholars and laymen. Read this book with care, but do read it.
"The Brothers Karamazov" is an ethical compendium and certainly one of the greatest novels ever written. Other reviewers have done a better job than I could of summarizing the complexly layered plot and symbolic nature of the characters. I might depart from them a bit by suggesting that each of the brothers is confined to a specific role and might be viewed as a prisoner of sorts.
The radical, revolutionary brother Ivan is a prisoner of his intellect. His essay on "The Grand Inquisitor" is the second of his two-part assault on his brother Aleosha's belief in Christ. Dimity, the lover of women and eruptive speaker is a prisoner of his passion. Aleosha, who worships his spiritual mentor, Father Zosima is a prisoner of his faith, while Smerdyakov, the ill begotten son of Fyodor Karamazov and a street woman is a prisoner of his circumstances. Each brother is a unique and integral component of the human condition.
But a novel cannot work through symbolism and personification alone. Like Tolstoi's `War and Peace" this book is also a series of essays. The chapter in which Father Zosima discovers his faith on the evening before his is supposed fight a duel is an essay of courage and integrity that far outstrips any thing written by "macho" authors such as Hemingway and Camus. In this chapter, Zosima is a carousing young military officer who discovers his faith in God on the evening before he is to fight a duel. This puts Zosima in a quandary since his faith now prevents him from killing another human being but he still does not want to appear a coward. Zosima solves this problem by offering his opponent the first shot. When his opponent misses, Zosima declines to take his shot. Instead he throws away his pistol and asks "am I worth it?" Zosima has transcended his ego and followed his conscience while still preserving his honor. This brief, action packed chapter summarizes the complexity of spiritual evolution. Zosima's faith does not give him an easy way out or solve all of his problems. He must still deal with the consequences of his previous actions even after discovering God. Faith in his case is hardly a narcotic.
The Grand Inquisitor chapter on the other hand clearly separates the sort of faith experienced by Father Zosima from the more cynical manifestations of organized religion. In this chapter Ivan tells Aleosha a story about Christ returning to Earth during the height of the Spanish Inquisition. Christ is arrested and brought before the Grand Inquisitor who clearly recognizes Him for who and what He is. Far from fearing or rejoicing in Christ's presence, the Grand Inquisitor threatens to try him for heresy and burn him. Since the Grand Inquisitor is primarily interested in the power and authority he derives from his position, the last thing he wants is a true believer let alone Christ himself to appear on the scene. The Grand Inquisitor tries to bate Christ into rebutting him, but Christ's silence frustrates him and eventually the Grand Inquisitor releases him.
From these brief descriptions, one can hopefully grasp the range of this work as a novel of ideas and a panoramic essay on the nature of faith and the human condition. In illuminating the struggles born by every human being in their physical and spiritual lives, Dostoevsky offers no easy solution. Dostoevsky's emphasis on the silent, invisible nature of courage and the folly of institutionalized belief make him the spiritual father of thinkers such as Nietze and Sartre. The ideas this book illuminates and questions it raises are universal and relevant to this day.