Literature Reviews Page 3 Dostoevsky


 The Brothers Karamazov

 Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear or MacAndrew translation

  • Paperback: 824 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (June 14, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374528373
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374528379
  • Rating *****   4.5 stars out of 5.  an intense, deeply moving human drama; unquestionably a masterpiece

    intense, penetrating, introspective, questioning, provocative, profound, despairing, intriguing, dark,  philosophical
    diverse, effervescent, archetypical (symbolic), exciting, surprising, tragic, very intellectual but also passionate

    read most swiftly and naturally

    A profoundly moving human drama, a meditation on the human condition. Dostoevsky's last novel is his masterpiece. This book has so much (in it's 800 pages), an Existential murder mystery, an examination and questioning of the purpose of faith and the value and intentions of religious organizations,  humor and satire. It is filled with burning emotion, insanity, evil and good; profound contemplations on the meaning of life.

    It's is a story about the struggles of the human soul in its quest to find God and redemption; it suggests that redemption is only possible through suffering which is the path to the self-knowledge that is necessary before one can truly love God and others.

    "Where there is no God, all is permitted." - Dostoevsky

    This quote says it all: this novel explores the consequences of man's denial of God in his life.

    The circumstances of the story presents it's intriguing characters mired deeply in the human condition (in this book, perhaps predicament is more accurate). This touches so squarely on the dilemmas of life that the story is truly a classic and timeless and will be meaningful as long as humans are human.

    Many years ago, I spend a winter reading all the "great" Russian novels. This was easily my favorite and one that I have reread several times.

    This is the story of a despicable, bitter  (but rich)  old man and his three sons. Each son is unique in character and seeking to find their way individually and in different directions. Obviously these characters portray aspects of each human personality: Mitya worldly, sensual; Ivan intellectual, practical; and Alyosha kindly, spiritually. (And the "4th brother", Smerdyakov,  is the worse truly evil, sly, interfering, and cruel)

    A woman seeks to win the father (for his fortune), there is distrust, a love-triangle, a murder and a mystery. Near the end, there is a surprising psychological plot twist that was completely innovative then, and has been copied a hundred times in recent movies.

    Alyosha (the spiritual seeker) stands heroically (apparently) for the virtuous life (through a connection with the Divine) though surrounded by deception, violence, greed, depravity, indolence and corruption (that is sin and denial of God or Higher Purpose).

    In the end, through all the dust and struggle, the story becomes a testament to the goodness and bravery of those humans that choose to embody those virtues. Most people (in this story) sink into the mire, unaware of the truth, unaware of their potential, unaware that they have the power to choose their "way of being"; instead they wallow in greed, sloth and (therefore) are consumed in the resulting suffering.

    The novel is very historical and nationalistic in the political/social/religious picture that it paints (mid 19th Century Russia) and it judges religion in complete skepticism, culminating in the famous chapter 'The Grand Inquisitor' which is a devastating critique of organized religion. (which can be read on it's own). It is also the earliest deeply "psychological" novel that I know (maybe outside of the Gothic writers).

    Through reading this novel, one can only be awakened to the import of being lucid enough to freely choose and decide one's "way of being" in life, rather than inheriting, and accepting (or even worse being driven) without questioning (and choosing) the role and part we play in life. This is truly a work of art than can change a person's view and perception of life.

    Why 4.5 stars instead of 5? The book does have excess wordiness and too much repetition (I think it was a serial publication, he's was paid for length) and the 800 pages could easily be edited down by 100 or more pages and would only gain in the reduction. But still a masterpiece.

    ALTERNATIVE TRANSLATION:  Constance Garnett is always a great translator of Dostoevsky. Pevear is more literal (so I'm told; I don't read Russian).



    Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time

    by  Joseph Frank


  • Hardcover: 984 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691128197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691128191


    Rating *****  5.5 stars out of 5.  One of the greatest biographies ever written. One of the most fun to read.

  • Beautifully written, this is the single volume 984 page abridged version of the 5 volume original.

    Every page of the huge book, was fun to read because of the literary, philosophical  and historical reference.

    Here's a quote:
     "What affected Dostoevsky  most profoundly was Schelling’s view of art as an organ of metaphysical cognition -- indeed as the vehicle through which the mysteries of the highest transcendental truths are revealed to mankind.  The entire generation of the 1840s became imbued with this belief in the exalted metaphysical mission of art; and no one was to defend it with more passion and brilliance than Dostoevsky. Dostoevsky was also influenced by Schelling’s view that the highest truths were closed to discursive reason but accessible by superior faculty of "intellectual intuition",  as well as by his Idealistic conception of nature as dynamic rather than static and mechanical -- or, in other words, as exhibiting a spiritual meaning and purpose.”

     Schelling was the philosopher and poet who wrote the text that Beethoven used in his 9th Symphony (The “Choral Symphony”)

     This paragraph, and nearly every sentence of the book makes me wonder about the author Joseph Frank, how can someone write sentences like that?

     Some people think that life’s not long enough to read Dostoevsky, I think I'd hate to have missed the experience of reading this book.


     The Idiot

     Leo Tolstoy  ...  translation

  • Paperback:
  • Publisher: F
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:
  • ISBN-13: 

    Rating *****   4.5 stars out of 5.  an intense, deeply moving human drama; unquestionably a masterpiece

  • Underrated , not a perfect novel, I found it a bit slow and meandering after the midpoint (for about 100 pages), but still a great story and may be my second favorite Dostoyevsky novel.

    There is a great DVD version in Russian, with rather poorly translated subtitles, very well worth watching.

    This film of Dostoevsky's "Idiot" by director Vladimir Bortko is a work of art and genius. I watched this 10 part, 8 hour long mini-series immediately after reading the novel. "Idiot" is one of the best novels I have ever read, and this film is one of the best movies I have ever seen.

    With a few understandable exceptions, the film is true to this brilliant novel in ever detail. Director Bortko and writer Kathrine Travinskaya have meticulously (reverentially) translated Dostoevsky's novel to film: the dialog, internal thoughts, facial expressions, gestures, character movements, settings, costumes, buildings, etc., etc., are impressively true to the novel. One might enjoy this film more without prior experience of the novel but the poorly translated subtitles may be confusing, so would be better to read the novel first).

    The casting is nearly perfect: even minor characters have been meticulously well cast. While it is true that some of the actors may be too old for their parts, their superb acting justifies their selection for their roles. The performances are totally believable and deeply moving. I was particularly impressed by the performances of Yevgeni Mironov (as Myshkin), Lidiya Velezheva (as Nastassya Filippovna), Vladimir Mashkov (as Rogozhin), Inna Churikova (as Lizaveta), Aleksei Petrenko (as General Ivolgin), Vladimir Ilyin (as Lebedev). I was very moved by the performance of Lidiya Velezheva during the scenes of Nastassya Filippovna's birthday party; she brilliantly and seamlessly shifts back and forth from a vicious coquette to a destroyed little girl. Of course Yevgeni Mironov's performance is so perfect and convincing, he was not really acting at all; instead, he surely must have been channeling the very soul of Prince Myshkin from the mind of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky himself.

    Very well done. Great directing, great actors, except for Nastasya Fillipovna's part, but I though she was better near the end.

    Bortko's direction is impeccable. I was also very impressed with the settings, art direction, lighting, costumes, and cinematography.

    The problems with the subtitles are trivial compared to the overall greatness of this film. In the case of rapid (sometimes multi-character) dialog you may have to replay sections of the DVD to catch everything.

    All of the menus on the DVDs are in Russian; here is how to turn on the English subtitles. From the main menu, the top selection will start the film; the second selection will bring up a part selection menu; the fourth (bottom) selection will bring up a menu to turn on English subtitles.
    In the second menu the 2nd section is English. Then return to the top and play.

    I highly recommend this film to anyone who loves great literature and great cinema.



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