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Бра́тья Карама́зовы

Published: Friday 20 Aug 2021 | Edited: Friday 20 Aug 2021

After nine months of chipping away, I finished The Brothers Karamazov a couple hours ago.

It's kinda bookended with tragic stories of Russian peasants. The first vignette is some poor women (and one wealthy woman) meeting the head priest at the town's church and laying out their troubles, asking for blessings. The final scene is the funeral of a young boy whose family comprises an alcoholic father, a mother with mental retardation, and a bedstricken sister. The middle is the story of a dysfunctional family tied to a murder mystery. The philosophical and religious content is pretty rich throughout.

I started the book on the recommendation of a podcast duo — the hosts of Very Bad Wizards. I've loved their shit. One's a philosophy professor (Tamler Sommers) and one's a psychology professor (David Pizarro). They're tied in friendship by their love of their own disciplines, one another's disciplines, and jokes about Tamler wanting to fuck his dog. I don't generally "read along" with stuff I'm subscribed to, but for the last two or three years, I've been doing my homework for the episodes as much as I can.

Last summer, they did a 5-episode deep dive on The Brothers Karamazov, so that was the proximal motivation for me to start the book.

I imagined that the distance between me and the context of the book (published in 1879) was gonna be an obstacle to getting into the story. Like, I thought Russian culture was going to be inaccessible. But it feels much more familiar and present than a lot of American stuff I've read. Definitely less foreign than a lot of British lit. It makes me want to read fiction from places I think of as really different and just see how that goes.

As much as I loved the story, though, and as much as I really loved the explicitly philosophic chapters (Rebellion and The Grand Inquisitor), my experience got tainted pretty bad. And it got tainted in anticipation of what's happening right now.

As I got about a third of the way in, I started formulating my "take" on it. Like, the thought of people knowing I had read this big important Dostoevsky joint became my motivation to finish the book. I couldn't wait to tell you that I read it and to prove to you that I got it.

I had a reading group of four friends for about a year, and we were getting into some pretty challenging stuff. The books themselves were fine, but the discussion really satisfied a need in me. A few months ago, the common acquaintance that brought the group together started a PhD, and it all fell apart.

I think a book club soothed the phantom limb syndrome I was experiencing from missing Sundays in church talking about Bible and Mormon stories. I liked to tell people what I thought, and I liked to hear what other people said. I liked to nod with people I agreed with and roll my eyes at ones I didn't.

So, as embarrassing as it is, I need you to know that I read a very smart book. I need to imagine you now staring at your phones and laptop screens, thinking of me as a brilliant young man, with good taste; handsome; fun at parties.

With a proud grin, I submit the blog entry, close my laptop, and turn around. And what to my surprise? You're all here, outside the door to my office. You rush in, with cone hats and party whistles. A few of you lift me up in my office chair and carry me to the middle of the group. Someone uncorks and sprays a bottle of champagne.

Hurrah for Karamazov!

Hurrah for Brennan!

Hurrah for me.