I read a lot of books, but like most people I am scared of long/hard reads. I am torn between my desire to read well and read a lot. The Brothers Karamazov has been in my to-read list long enough for me to put a pause on the three books I was reading. I swallowed my hesitations and started reading when I got hold of it.
There was a seven page introduction by one Konstantin Mochulsky which I read through to gain some context. A translated 19th century Russian book. I took a deep breathe and started. Chapter 1, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov. I am telling you, the title was the hard part (for a non-Russian reader). It was a controversial and captivating start to a story. By the end of the first chapter I decided to read all books by Dostoevsky, chronologically.
The problem with reading an old book, especially one from a different country, is that you struggle to find a character or an incident to relate to. And the long monologues do not help. Who talks like that? Sure, there is a lot of learning. And authors who write like that get awards and stuff. I recently read an article that I very heartily agreed with. It says that we don’t associate pleasure with intellect and so when complicated topics are written in a simple and pleasurable way, we doubt its greatness. Which is odd, isn’t the ability to compile complicated thoughts into a simple narrative the mark of a good writer?
There is one annoying thing every old writer has done. They write as if the world has men, and others. When they talk about people, they mean men. When they talk about God, right and wrong, politics, history, the sinners – they mean men. Women and children are mentioned now and then – like they would mention a thing, a horse maybe. If I am to understand the way of life in 19th century Russia or the biblical times mentioned in this book, I would say women were either mothers or prostitutes. And of course all mothers die for the sake of convenience.
But the book was perfect in other ways. The plot and the characters are highly applaudable. Though the book is clearly pro-God, you are presented with all arguments. You do not often see a logical argument concluding with “God exists”. Dostoevsky made it work. But, I always think that one cannot shelve books as anything until one reads it twice. (Unless the “one” is a super-genius)