The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
It’s been a while since I’ve written a review. It took me forever to get through this book, and I couldn’t summon enough activation energy to actually write this blog until now. This classic is definitely a long one, and parts of it are very dense. I’ve also been busy with work, travel, and moving back to America, so I often had to take weeks of break. Especially at the beginning, this meant I completely forgot all the characters and had to use Sparknotes. Russian names are difficult to remember, and the fact that everyone had two or three names didn’t help.
1) “Indeed, I always feel when I meet people that I am lower than all, and that they all take me for a buffoon. So I say, ‘Let me really play the buffoon. I am not afraid of your opinion, for you are every one of you worse than I am.’ That is why I am a buffoon.” – Fyodor Pavlovitch
As the counselor to the president would say, get off your high-horse cavalry.
2) “‘I love humanity,’ he said, ‘but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with any one of two days together, as I know by experience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom.'” – The Elder
What is it that makes one donate to faceless organizations but run away from homeless people on the streets?
3) “‘It is only by recognizing his wrong-doing as a son of Christian society – that is, of the Church – that he recognizes his sin against society – that is, against the Church. So that it is only against the Church, and not against the State, the the criminal of today can recognize that he has sinned.'” – The Elder
As I always say, anything that requires faith – which is pretty much every social construct – is a form of religion.
4) “For as soon as I say to those enemies, ‘No, I’m not a Christian, and I curse my true God,’ then at once, by God’s high judgment, I become immediately and specially anathema accursed, and am cut off from the Holy Church, exactly as though I were a heathen, so that at that very instant, not only when I say it aloud, but when I think of saying it, before a quarter of a second has passed, I am cut off.'” – Fyodor Pavlovitch
The number of quality passages on religion in this book = high.
5) “‘Brother, let me ask one thing more: has any man a right to look at other men and decide which is worthy to live?'” – Alyosha
6) “‘For sin is sweet; all abuse it, but all men live in it, only others do it on the sly, and I openly.'” – the old man
Don’t judge because you sin differently – some random Twitter profile
7) “‘You know, dear boy, there was an old sinner in the eighteenth century who declared that, if there were no God, he would have to be invented.'” – Ivan
Another great one-liner on religion.
8) “The craving for community of worship is the chief misery of every man individually and of all humanity from the beginning of time. For the sake of common worship they’ve slain each other with the sword. They have set up gods and challenged one another, ‘Put away your gods and come and worship ours, or we will kill you and your gods!'” – the Grand Inquisitor
Reading Sapiens before this provides such great context from a very different viewpoint.
9) “‘If dogs could reason and criticize us they’d be sure to find just as much that would be funny to them, if not far more, in the social relations of men, their masters – far more, indeed.'” – Kolya
People love dogs because they appear to live simple lives.
10) “‘What is meant by founding a city or a state? What do they do? Did they go and each lay a brick, do you suppose?'” – Kolya
Since I’m in interview mode, I’d like to say this is an ill defined question and must be clarified.
All in all, The Brothers Karamazov has a great story arc, with surprising plot twists and a lot of long passages about religion. There are many distinct characters who are caricatures of the ideas they represent. I get the feeling that this book will hold up for a long time.