The only fiction novel I have reviewed so far is because it is the best fiction novel I have ever come across.  I’ve
read
The Brothers Karamazov twice and written several essays regarding some of the most philosophical
passages in the book.  This is one of the most philosophically dense novels ever written, but its appeal goes well
beyond that.  The novel sucks you into a different world and introduces you to characters so rich and full of life
that they seem like people you’ve known your entire life.  All great works of art contain a personal, political, and
spiritual element, and this book has all three in abundance.

Written in 19th century Russia, the story takes place during that place and time, a world in which people lived in
small villages where everybody knows everybody else, people pass the time by engaging in conversation rather
than watching television, and doubts about the existence of God are just beginning to creep their way into the
collective consciousness.  Though the characters are Russian and the novel is often described as an illustration of
the Russian soul, it is the
human soul that this book is primarily about.

The three main characters are the sons of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a drunk and deplorable aristocrat whose
murder serves as the main backdrop of the novel’s plot.  Dmitri, who is the prime suspect in the murder, is
Fyodor’s eldest son, his only son from a wife who left him when Dmitri (Mitya) was very young.  Fyodor’s
second wife bore him two children before dying young, Ivan and Alexei (Alyosha).  Each of the three sons
represents a different aspect of the human soul.  Mitya is a sensualist like his father, capable of good and noble
thoughts and actions yet a hopeless slave to his passions, particularly for the lady Gruschenka, who serves as the
catalyst for the action by coming between him and his father.  Ivan is an intellectual, a product of an enlightened
European education and sceptical about the existence of God.  Alyosha, whom Dostoevsky calls the hero of the
story, is a pure-hearted altruist who loves God and wishes to spend his life helping others.  Other notable
characters include Katerina Ivanovna, Mitya’s betrothed whom he betrays by borrowing money from her and
using it to try and win Gruschenka; Father Zossima, the elder at the town’s monastery who serves as a role-model
for Alyosha until his death; Kolya and Ilyusha, two boys whom Alyosha befriends in one of the novel’s most
touching side-stories, and Smerdyakov, a servant in the Karamazov house who is presumed to be the illegitimate
son of Fyodor Pavlovich and a homeless beggar, “stinking Lizaveta” whom he is rumoured to have fornicated with
one drunken evening.

Dostoevsky breathes so much life into these characters that they feel like real people, and it is easy to get
wrapped up in their drama.  Most of the novel is dialogue, discussions between the characters regarding the plot
or even topics completely unrelated to the plot but that provide powerful insights into life’s biggest questions such
as the nature of goodness and what are the consequences for humanity if God does not exist.  One of the most
powerful sections of the novel is a conversation between Ivan and Alyosha, in which Ivan explains how the
needless suffering of innocent children would make him reject God’s world even if He did exist, and where he tells
the story of the
Grand Inquisitor, a passage so brilliant and powerful that philosophers have been writing about it
for over a century.  But even long dialogues that are central to the plot—such as Mitya’s interrogation after his
arrest for the murder of his father, which takes up an entire section of several hundred pages—are completely
riveting because these characters are so real and dynamic, and you can’t help but care about what happens to
them.

There is no simple meaning to the novel as a whole, though it is more rich with meaning than most novels that do
have a specific message.  Kurt Vonnegut, in
Slaughterhouse Five, writes that everything you need to know
about life can be found in
The Brothers Karamazov, and I would not argue with that endorsement.  Not only is
the novel an absolute pleasure to read, but you will come away with it feeling as though you have learned some
very important things, even if you can’t quite put those things into words.  Very few novels achieve the level of
greatness that Dostoevsky’s final work reaches, and anyone who takes the time to read it will undoubtedly feel
that their lives have been enriched in some way from the experience.  So if you have not yet had the pleasure, pick
up a copy of this awe-inspiring novel, enter the world of 19th century small-town Russia for awhile, get to know
Alyosha and his brothers Mitya and Ivan, think about life and God in ways you’ve never considered before, and
experience the miraculous ways in which the novel touches and enlightens your soul.
The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor Dostoevsky - 1880