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Volume 5, issue 2

B O O K S E s s a y s

W E b y

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impression and motivating me towards finally reading it, because it turns out, in the end, they’re right.

The Brothers Karamazov By Fyodor Dostoyevsky Yes, I know: it’s huge. Like 800 pages or more. Yes, it’s Russian, and that likely means it is fraught with the most depressing characters and scenarios imaginable, correct? Considerations like this were probably the best reasons why I avoided this book for so long despite its reputation for being one of the greatest works ever written. I can’t exactly recall what possessed me to finally pick it up, but I may have stumbled across a review from a reader on that called it a “life-changing experience.” Another reviewer may have called it “a book that takes possession of you.” At least those are the quotes that I remember making an

The main story, to my amazement, is a real potboiler: it describes the relationship between a father and his three sons, their money problems, their petty personal issues, their women issues, and finally their spiritual dilemmas. The father and eldest son fight over money and the affections of the same woman of low reputation. A manipulative, shadowy illegitimate son lurks about and plots. There are catfights between women, betrothals and messy breakups. There is murder. And finally, there is the spiritual awakening of the youngest son, Alyosha, a monk -in-training under the tutelage of his elder, Father Zosima. It is this aspect of the story, the relationship between Alyosha and Father Zosima, that really is the heart of the novel. For all of the soap opera-like elements of the plot, it is the spiritual considerations that Dostoyevsky presents through these characters that are the most provocative. We’re talking meaning of life type of stuff here. There are chunks of this book devoted to

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examining one’s life and purpose, to resolving one’s spiritual existence. I must confess to being a rather lapsed Catholic, but I can honestly say that if Father Zosima were around today, I might have to re-evaluate where I stand in that regard. That a book could even force a reader to ask such questions of oneself is achievement enough, but the skill of Dostoyevsky’s storytelling is equally dazzling, especially in his characterizations. Each and every character has many layers of complexity that are gradually revealed; just when you think you know a character and can anticipate how he or she will act, they surprise you, revealing a new level of depth and meaning to who they are. As for the length of the book, all I can say is that it is a page-turner. Seriously. It is indeed a book that will “take possession of you.” It is not depressing, although it does deal with elements of death, greed and jealousy. The scene of Alyosha’s spiritual epiphany after the death of his elder is one of the most beautiful and moving passages I’ve ever read. Give this book a try. — Jeff Lelek

Library matters volume 5 issue 2