The Brothers Karamazov

It has been well over two months since I’ve reviewed a book. So much has transpired since then (getting engaged and so forth), but that does not mean good reading has not happened in spite of the many distractions. A good biography on Jackie Robinson restored my faith in baseball (a long with the comeback-nothing’s-gonna-stop-us now-Twins!). But the highlight of the last two months of reading has been moving slowly through Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

It should be said at the outset that I do not like novels. I have never had the patience to read them or the interest to explore their long drawn out plots that contain characters I don’t care to know, or the vague themes left open to interpretation at the end. But reading Dostoevsky’s masterpiece changed all that, or at least made the experience a pleasurable one. But after reading Brothers none of those issues, which do present themselves in some ways, detracted from its magnificent writing.

What I’ve learned is that novels are like paintings. They do not always make sense, nor do they have some discernible “message” that is self-evident to the viewer. Instead, like a painting, where the technique, application, lines, colors, and shapes coalesce into a whole that leaves the viewer to behold and admire the talent of the artist and wonder at the intent, reading Dostoevsky and what he is able to do with words left me with much of the same experience. You simply have to read it for yourself to get the full effect.

It would be impossible for me to “review” Dostoevsky’s novel, for such a task would be far too presumptuous. All I can do is hope to convey the wonder, the horror, the perplexity, and the joy of reading the book by sharing some of my favorite passages.

On miracles:

Oh! no doubt, in the monastery he fully believed in miracles, but, to my thinking, miracles are never a stumbling-block to the realist. It is not miracles that dispose realists to belief. The genuine realist, if he is an unbeliever, will always find strength and ability to disbelieve in the miraculous, and if he is confronted with a miracle as an irrefutable fact he would rather disbelieve his own senses than admit the fact. Even if he admits it, he admits it as a fact of nature till then unrecognised by him. Faith does not, in the realist, spring from the miracle but the miracle from faith. If the realist once believes, then he is bound by his very realism to admit the miraculous also. The Apostle Thomas said that he would not believe till he saw, but when he did see he said, “My Lord and my God!” Was it the miracle forced him to believe? Most likely not, but he believed solely because he desired to believe and possibly he fully believed in his secret heart even when he said, “I do not believe till I see.”

On self-deception:

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn’t it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill- he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness.

On how to battle for faith in the face of doubt:

How- how can I get back my faith? But I only believed when I was a little child, mechanically, without thinking of anything. How, how is one to prove it? have come now to lay my soul before you and to ask you about it. If I let this chance slip, no one all my life will answer me. How can I prove it? How can I convince myself? Oh, how unhappy I am! I stand and look about me and see that scarcely anyone else cares; no one troubles his head about it, and I’m the only one who can’t stand it. It’s deadly- deadly!”

“No doubt. But there’s no proving it, though you can be convinced of it.”

“By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbour actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbour, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.”

I will post more in the coming days.

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One thought on “The Brothers Karamazov

  1. Chad says:

    On how to battle for faith in the face of doubt: His thoughts on this was very intriguing to me personally. I’m going to have to take some time and think about it through out the day. The “Miracles” section was also very interesting. Thanks Adam…

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