Monday, December 7, 2015

The Brothers Karamazov - Dostoevsky

I'm not quite sure how to review a book like this.  The short review is that a) I liked it and b) I would recommend it to anyone interested in a talky book with strong philosophical arguments and counter-arguments.  Probably the way to tackle something as big as 'Brothers Karamazov' is to break it up into pieces and review each piece. 
I didn't do that. 
And it's too late now.  So all that I have are some general impressions. 

The book is almost completely about the interplay between the brothers of the Karamazov family.  There are three brothers, by two mothers.  (And possibly a fourth by yet another mother.)  The main three are composed of a hothead, an intellectual and a mystic.  The drama comes from circumstances of money and love which intermix in awful ways. 
I said almost completely, but that isn't quite true.  The Karamazov father also drives the drama.  He is a wealthy fool who always does the wrong thing.  Sometimes his foolishness is harmless, sometimes it drives others to murder.  Murder, and the trial that goes along with it, makes up most of the second half of the book.

One of Karamazov's great themes is that of mercy.  He thinks it is wrong for the state to pull criminals away from the body of society because it reduces their chance for mercy.  He believes that the passion of ordinary people can blind them to true justice.  In fact, one thing that struck me, while reading Dostoevsky, is that the collectors of the Great Books have a blind spot.  They isolated 102 various concepts and built a Syntopicon to help readers concentrate on them.
Somehow they overlooked 'mercy'.  They don't have 'grace' or 'forgiveness' or 'atonement' either.  This concept skips by.  Which is rather incredible given its prominence in Dostoevsky's work and other fairly important pieces.  Like the Gospels(!).  The closest to 'mercy' is probably in the depths of 'justice'.  I think it deserves its own slot.

One of the criteria, that Adler and Hutchins spoke of, for identifying a Great book is its rereadability.  The 'Brothers Karamazov' clearly fits here.  I look forward to reading it again five or ten years from now.   

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