Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a titanic figure among the world's great authors, and The Brothers Karamazov is often hailed as his finest novel. A masterpiece on many levels, it transcends the boundaries of a gripping murder mystery to become a moving account of the battle between love and hate, faith and despair, compassion and cruelty, good and evil.
Public Domain (P)2013 Naxos AudioBooks
Constantine Gregory decided to give a reading of the Constance Garnett translation of "The Brothers Karamazov". Constance Garnett is no longer considered the best translator of Dostoevsky. She goes to great length to "pretty up" the rather rough and bumpy language of the original. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s new translation of "The Brothers Karamazov" is now regarded by most critics to be definitive as it does not try to mask Dostoyevskys idiosyncratic prose.
Gregory gives a rather calm and relaxed rendering of the work, which is nice in the long run.
My dream "audio" Karamazov would be David Horovitch narrating the Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation.
However as it stands now, this version by Constantine Gregory is the best "Karamazov" available.
I wonder what inspired Dostoyevsky to write this novel? During the trial it is mentioned that there was a woman in St. Petersburg who had given birth and then killed the infant, hiding the little body and then later it was discovered she had done this numerous times. I wonder if, assuming that story is true, Dostoyevsky began to wonder about how difficult it would be to forgive someone like that, to see into their heart and find something good. This novel is, after all, about that very idea, the idea of never being able to know what goodness really lies in another persons heart and how difficult it is, or even how inappropriate it is, to judge anyone, no matter how evil they have been.
The novel ends with a promise, a promise that all the boys and Aloysha will never forget each other, never forget little Ilyusha, and never forget the goodness of their childhood memory together. Even, if later, they grow cynical or do many terrible things, Aloysha asks them to always remember this one good moment in their life because it may save them someday, just as an onion almost saved another sinner. Those small moments of goodness could, at least in the eyes of God, be the one link to salvation for even the most terrible sinner.
The novel also deals with the questions of faith and belief and it is these parts I found most fascinating because Dostoyevsky makes the strongest case I've yet heard that counters the scientific arguments of logic and reason. And while I think Dostoyevsky was too hard on science and too opposed to the good science can do for humanity, he does show how logic and reason can absolutely condemn an innocent person. At times I wondered if Dostoyevsky was trying to tell us it would be better just to forgive all criminals and then let God figure it all out later.
And that's the real issue here: forgiveness. How difficult is it really to forgive someone. Not just any regular sinner either, but a person who has done something horribly terrible. And what sort of world would we live in if we did, in fact, forgive everyone easily? A world where we forgive a terrorist or the rapist of a child? Can we even imagine such things? In the character Smerdyakov we have someone who is cunning and ruthless and who takes advantage of the people around him, but we never really know why he does what he does. Smerdyakov is the closest character to the 'main villain', but we never get his own thoughts, we only see him through the eyes of others. He is difficult to forgive because we don't know him, yet this is exactly they point Dostoyevsky is trying to make: we MUST forgive Smerdyakov, he is in the greatest need of it as Father Zosima alluded to earlier in the novel.
Dostoyevsky is not foolish enough to think that we can always forgive, however. He knows we will always be carried away by our emotions and passions. He knows those passions will lead us to do terrible things and to also condemn others, too. He quite clearly sees the onion layers that make up human interactions, the dual nature of all people who can be both good and bad at the same time. He knows how complicated people really are. But he also plants that seed of doubt in our mind while reading this novel as to if we really are qualified to pass judgment on any person. He wants us to know that nothing is what it seems and even when we are positive we know a person we might very well be wrong about them. He's showing us the danger of gossip, of judgment, of not walking in another person's shoes. And he's also showing us how we are all conflicted, how we ebb and flow between goodness and sin and even how what we perceive in others as sin might actually be virtue as in the case of little Ilyusha and his father, Captain Snegiryov, or even the Grand Inquisitor who though his actions go against God he is actually doing so because he is for God.
Then there is the faith question, the tricky nature of how faith works. Here he shows us that if God himself showed up at our doorstep and said "I am God, here I am", we would actually doubt the existence of God even more. But the lack of any proof of God, the absence of proof is the very thing that is needed for their to be faith. If we know for certain there is the possibility of salvation at the end of life then what point would life have since that would take away our own free will? We would already know beforehand if we are saved or doomed so why bother going through the motions?
The book even goes so far as to make me want to be a better person. I found myself questioning my own opinions and judgments of others while at work and out and about town. I started wondering what sort of life each person I saw was really living, how good or how bad, what tragedy or joy they were dealing with. I started to wonder if perhaps you could just do away with all the different religions in the world and have everyone read this novel instead.
And even as I write this it does sound rather absurd and I can imagine anyone reading this saying "Well clearly this person has a religious agenda", but that's not the case. In fact there is no way I could convince you that I don't have an agenda because you can't see into my own heart and know how I really feel about this subject. All I can say is that I was sincerely moved by this novel and that it makes me want to look at the world differently and that I had a better understanding of belief and faith than when I began the novel.
This book is not some "depressing Russian tome", but aside from its philosophical and theological nature it is a well plotted family novel and murder mystery. Like all of Dostoyevsky's other works it's wordy and characters seem to speak in long speeches, but it's never boring - even when it is. Dostoyevsky also makes a great counter to Tolstoy in that Tolstoy allowed you to see into a character's mind where Dostoyevsky is always more interested in looking into his heart.
This is a novel of great compassion and is one of my favorite reading experiences I've ever had.
Yes. I need the momentum of the audio version, during some of those long Russian monologues. I like alternating between audio and text. This audio is the Constance Garnett translation which sounds good on audio.
I liked that the characters surprised me. I liked the world of the story, the sense of sacredness, the way that big questions were brought up in conversation. It's a lot different from the everyday world of today.
He was very subtle in his character work. I could distinguish characters most of the time. Sometimes I could not. He did a wonderful job overall.
No. It took a few weeks.
I'm glad I listened to it. It was a difficult book, but it was ambitious.
I really wanted to love this story, but sadly couldn't finish. I will retry at a later date.
Not sure if I just never realized how melodramatic this novel was or if the reading really pushed it there. Maybe I was more or a teenager when I last read it. But the reading seemed to flatten out any nuance and make the characters and story seem absurd and overwrought.
"Beautiful, Addictive, Rewarding"
Never mind that my listening experience was marred by strange glitches in the audiobook (downloaded in enhanced quality) that mysteriously kept reappearing once in a while when I was listening on my iPod* but disappeared when I listened to it in iTunes, ”The Brothers Karamazov” is a jewel.
There were places when I was ready to give up, and only kept going because of pride. After a difficult section or two, however, I found moments of such sublimity of prose and characterization it’s impossibly beautiful, addictive and rewarding. I don't believe in the kind of self-deception that attaches importance to moments one doesn't like merely because the work at hand is a canonized classic. Instead, a work, when it really and truly does overwhelm its reader, itself gives meaning to the parts perceived as meaningless by the reader in the first place. One sees with new eyes if one is converted, and isn't that ultimately one of the goals an author tries to achieve? To convert us to believe, follow and take the leap? I did, and do.
"Karamazov" indeed works for me as described, shedding light retrospectively to portions of the book I couldn't connect with, these portions now illumined and shining brightly with new-found, glowing meaning. The result is that one wishes to return to those places that now possess a magical, glimmering new depth and colour.
Constantine Gregory certainly helps. His reading is among the finest I’ve heard, and I’ll certainly find out more works read by him. I also love Garnett’s translation, so I’m doubly satisfied.
* imagine lying in bed, the house all quiet, everyone else sleeping. You’re slowly drifting off yourself, still minutely hanging there as to be able to make sense of what you’re hearing, when suddenly there’s a loud electronic noise as if somebody yanked the plug from the surround system – that’s the kind of leisurely listening I’m referring to.
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