The Brothers Karamazov - 2: An Inappropriate Gathering

4.23.2014

*Page cuts will be added, should any posts in this series involve major spoilers.
Previously: Book I

Oh, yes, I am still reading this book.  It's a quick read; I simply haven't been reading very frequently.

Case in point: book II is almost entirely the dialogue that takes place when the Karamazov family comes together at (of all places) the monastery.  Dialogue is to Dostoyevsky what narrative is to Kafka.  Characters talk on for paragraphs, and it starts out sensibly enough, only to end in a vastly different topic.  That's the beauty of it, though: it sets the cogwheels of your mind turning so you're never quite bored.

By the way, I am loving this translation (Pevear/Volokhonsky).  Translation is such a wildly disputed topic, too much so, perhaps.  I enjoyed the Alan Myers translation of The Idiot, and Constance Garnett's Notes from Underground was quite good.  What really shines in Pevear/Volokhonsky is the emotional subtext.  That is, the narrator's voice - often tinged with sarcasm - comes through strongly, and all the characters are brought up to a new level, as a result.  In tone, it's a great mix of modern and Victorian, nothing too jarring.  Having previously read some sad translations of Jules Verne, I am greatly impressed with this so far.

Back to topic, I'm not sorry The Idiot was my first Dostoyevsky, but The Brothers Karamazov has a much stronger introduction.  Book II is so weird, it's got me pretty intrigued.  Via the strange conflict between the father (Fyodor) and his son, Dmitri, we have it where the plot seems obvious, yet there is enough uncertainty to propel it forward.  (There was also a scene that is possibly premonitory, though again, just vague enough to keep you wondering.)

What is the purpose of this book II?  The father made an utter embarrassment of himself - no surprise.  Actually, I was surprised he went so far.  I love how the reader can sort of "soak in" the awkwardness through the character of Pyotr Miusov, whom we must also thank for the few laughs in this part.  Secondly, I appreciate the down-to-earth portrayal of the monks.  It's a rare circumstance to read about well-written religious characters, let alone clerics.  Father Zosima and even Rakitin come across as pretty realistic.  The Father Superior's reaction to Fyodor's scene was also a great bit of writing.

One more thing - I found it interesting that Rakitin teased Alyosha, half-questioning and half-telling him he must be the same as his brothers and father, a "sensualist."  I have misgivings about the future of Alyosha, more maybe than I had about Myshkin.  Bracing myself...I just hate watching good characters get into trouble.