Saturday, September 15, 2007

“The Brothers Karamazov”

The irrationality of life and the purifying effect of suffering are the central themes of this classic novel by Dostoevsky, a master story-teller. In 1849, Dostoevsky was arrested as a member of a secret utopian society and sentenced to death. He was tied to the post to be shot, then he was told the sentence was changed to eight years of penal servitude. For him, prison meant solitude, suffering, but also self-judgment and the beginnings of spiritual regeneration.

He said of his experience in prison, “I am a child of the age, a child of nonbelief and doubt … until my coffin closes. … in such moments one thirsts like ‘parched grass’ for faith and finds it precisely because truth shines in misfortune. … yet sometimes God sends me moments in which I am utterly at peace.” The coexistence of faith and unbelief indeed remained with Dostosevsky all his life.

He also met in prison a young man named Ilyinsky, who was serving a 20 year sentence for parricide. He did not believe Ilyinsky was guilty and later he learned that the man had been cleared, after serving 10 years of his sentence.

The Brothers Karamazov told of Dmitri Karamazov, a sensual, impulsive, and poetic first child of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, the wicked and sentimental profligate. Dmitri was engaged to the elegant Katerina Ivanova but subsequently fell for the earthly seductress Grushenka. When Dmitri’s father tried to lure Grushenka away with money, he went beserk. Dmitri also has two half-brothers, the atheist intellectual Ivan, who fell in love with Katerina, and the quiet novice monk Alyosha.

When Fyodor Pavlovich was found murdered, all the evidence seemed to implicate Dmitri. But Dmitri pointed his finger at Smerdyakov, Fyodor Pavlovich’s lackey and rumoured illegitimate son. Grushenka and Alyosha believed him and defended him vigorously. Bit by bit the human drama unfold. Fascinating, particularly how the characters responded to suffering and to each other. This is one of the best books I have even read.

Some people consider novels a waste of time, because novels do not discuss serious issues in a serious manner. My feeling is that the human conditions reflected in novels such as The Karamazov Brothers make much deeper impacts on their readers. Even Jesus often presents His teachings in the form of parables, essentially message-laden stories.

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