what became his last book, Fyodor Dostoevsky made his strongest case
for the existence of God. Even though it centers on patricide, The Brothers Karamazov
is a tale of affirmation. No sinner is irredeemable; compassion and
forgiveness are extended to all humanity.
The brothers are the
three legitimate sons of Fyodor Karamazov — sensuous Dmitri,
intellectual Ivan, and mystical Alyosha — and a probable
fourth son, the strange Smerdyakov, a servant in Fyodor’s
household. Although it is Dmitri who is accused and wrongly convicted
of the murder of their dreadful father, it is Ivan who articulates the
atheistic philosophy that Doeveysky rejects, especially in the famous
chapter about the Grand Inquisitor who protects humanity from
the burden of freedom of choice. Counterbalancing Ivan is the monk
Zossima and his pupil Aloysha, who espouse noncondemnation, love, and
the commonality of humankind.
Ivan later suffers a
mental breakdown and hallucinates visits from the devil when he
realizes that his philosophy — without God, everything is
permitted — enabled a murderer. In contrast, believers are
regenerated through suffering, including Dmitri, who, though wrongly
convicted of murder, realizes that his excesses gave him much to atone
In addition to the
murder and Dmitri’s trial, The
has many subplots and themes, including children’s
mistreatment by parents and one another, monastic life and wisdom, and
relations between men and women, fathers and sons, and brothers.
The Brothers Karamazov
can be disorienting for those used to action-driven novels. It unfolds
largely in a series of long statements by often hysterical characters.
For people interested in a fundamentally theological perspective on the
human condition, it is worth continuing through the nearly 1,000 pages.
Acknowledged as one of
the greatest novels of all time, The
greatly influenced writers and thinkers from Freud to Kurt Vonnegut.
Nietszche said Dostoevsky was the only psychologist from whom he
learned anything, and Vonnegut’s character Eliot Rosewater (Slaughterhouse-Five) says,
“Everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers
Home My reviews My friends' reviews