I began reading ‘Brother’s K’ in July of last year. About 450 pages and 8 months later, the plot finally took off in a discernible direction. The only thing that kept me going all the way to the end on page 1054, was my desire to prove to myself that I could read serious literature (Russian!) of substantial length without a English course grade hanging in the balance. It also helped that I did not know anything about the book other than it is, according to some, ‘the best novel ever written’. Others consider it their favorite book they’ve ever read. So I found myself thinking ‘what exactly about this book is so incredibly compelling?’
From the start I kept a ‘Who’s who card’ in the book so I could keep track of all the characters with their Russian names like ‘Dmitry Fyodorovich Karamozov’ who has the nickname ‘Mitya’. These are alphabet-long names that stretch the absorptive capacity of my brain similar to how ‘idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura’ did in nursing school.
Hubs helped me to understand some of the texture of the book- that the three sons are three aspects of Russian culture and history that were in tension around that time in the 1880’s. Alexi, the youngest, is the apprentice monk who obviously represented the rich Christian Orthodox traditions. Dimitry, the worldly impulsive sensualist who is (spoiler alert!) framed for his father’s murder. And Ivan, the intellectual achiever who sneers at God and embraces the new humanism of the era and whose soliloquy dominates the novel’s most famous chapter ‘The Grand Inquisitor’.
Hubs offered that a lot of the narrative is written as if in a dream-like state. I suppose. Some of the characters have monologues that go on and on and on for pages and pages. And most of the main characters except Alexi all have a dated persona… like meeting the townsfolk of another time. All of them a bit too dramatic, a bit too emotional, a bit too long- winded, speaking in a dialect that places them far away in another century. But this is why we read the old books that have withstood the test of time isn’t it?
I must admit I fell for Alexi as my favorite character which is what Dostoyevski intended I imagine. The even-tempered and devoted young man who is the touchstone of almost every other member of the family and community. The book’s ending did not feel satisfying, leaving several threads dangling but that always leaves the reader wanting more.
My next read with be a little more manageable and local: ‘The Kingdom by the Sea’ by Paul Theroux, a travelogue of his walk around the coastline of Britain.
What are you reading this summer?