Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Brothers Karamazov

Thanks to an old quote book and a love of underlining quotes that jump out at me I can recollect my thoughts on this book in somewhat accurate detail despite having read it in 2001.

Dostoyevsky was one of my first favorite authors. I own many of his books and have read a lot of them. I love that he focused on people with struggles. He is a master at showing the inner workings of people and the reasons they chose the actions they do.

The Brothers Karamazov is actually my all time favorite Dostoyevsky novel. I heavily identified with Aloysha the brother that chose to be a priest. My favorite quote is:

"Love God's people. Because we have come here and shut ourselves within these walls, we are no holier than those that are outside, but on the contrary, from the very fact of coming here, each of has confessed to himself that he is worse than others, than all men on earth"

At the time, I hide from the world. I felt very keenly that I was not stable and had very little trust in myself. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why I chose to go to a Christian university. After getting healing (thankfully while at university) I began to realize that I could let myself go. I could have fun and be free and that the world would not collapse. My Christianity became less about the structures and rules of religion and more about my relationship to God.

The Brothers Karamazov was one of the books that I read that showed me that life was for living. It filled me with such agreat joy to hear that there was more than just surviving.

Here is a quote that shows that best

"If I didn't believe in life, if I lost faith in the woman I love, lost faith in the order of things, were convinced in fact that everything is a disorderly, damnable, and perhaps devil ridden chaos, if I were struck by every horror of man's disillusionment-still I should want to live and having once tasted the cup I would not turn away from it till I have drained I would not turn away from it till I had drained it."

And further down that same page:

"I have asked myself many times whether there is in the world any despair that would overcome this frantic and perhaps unseemly thirst for life in me, and I've come to the conclusion that there isn't"

This book is a beautiful example of how nobody is one thing. In doing good, we are also at times evil. In doing evil we are also still good. Humanity can be best described as being a blend of the three brothers. Aloysha who has faith, Dmitri who is filled with passion and tries to live life with abandon and Ivan who pursues logic and science.

Aloysha and Ivan argue about God with Aloysha defending him and Ivan stating that suffering is horrible, and that God couldn't have created it.

Ivan tells of "The Grand Inquistor" which is a story about Christ coming back during the Grand Inquistion and being charged for giving man free will. The Church complains that God has been mistaken in believe that there is good in humanity and that they need to be controlled. The church states, they have taken this on. Talking of Gods love for man, the inquisitor complains that it would be more loving to have eased the burden of free will.

"Thou who has loved him more than Thyself. Respecting him less, Thou wouldst have asked less of him. That would have been more like love, for his burden would have been lighter.... for it will save them from the great anxiety and terrible agony they endure at present in making a free decision for themselves"

Aloysha however, is told of a more true way of being by one of his mentors

"Life will bring you many misfortunes, but you will find your happiness in them, and bless life and will make others bless it-which is what matters most"

I love that Dostoyevsky's novels always show that all behaviour is rational. Even the most horrible act often has a motive that any of us could easily understand. As humans we are a blend of both good and evil. We are as humans "capable of the greatest heights and of the greatest depths"

I was so glad to read this book when I did for I feel it helped me to reconcile a few parts of myself. I discovered I could be passionate, faithful and logical and not be contradicting myself in any sense. I count this book as probably my second favorite novel of all time only to be shadowed by East of Eden by John Steinbeck which for some reason never made this list of 100 at all. Oddly enough however it was also a story of brothers as well...

In Search of Lost Time Review

I was a little miffed to discover when I started reading this book that rather than just being ONE book it was actually 6 volumes in 6 books of about 600-700 pages each. Soooo....that makes my book list of a hundred books to really be 105 books. To be honest I bought only two of the six volumes and for the purpose of the "list", I only read two of the six books before moving on to the next book on the list. I hope to be able to come back to the other four novels after completing the list.

Well, after that rant you would think that I didn't like the book but in fact that isn't true. I loved the book. Proust philosophizes about just the sort of things I love: beauty, love and the things that charm you even though you can't say why.

While reading this book I read a beautiful description of Madeleines. I decided to cook myself up a batch since I had a Madeleine pan from the last French novel I read, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog". I had the joy of eating them dipped in lime tea, just like the famous memory that was described in the book. I found a whole new appreciation for them because of this. I found them quite bland the first time I tried them. Lime tea made them delicious! They were also excellent dipped in a peppermint/vanilla latte!

One of my favorite quotes from Volume 1 of In Search of Lost time talks about the great benefit of novels being a way to see truth that we might otherwise ignore because it develops too slowly in our own life.

..."the most intense of which would never be revealed to us, because the slow course of their development prevents us from perceiving them. It is the same in life; the heart changes, and it is our worst sorrow; but we only know it only through reading, through our imagination."

I can't count how many epiphanies I have had while reading that I might never have stumbled upon simply be observing my own life.

Another quote I loved was

"There is a charming quality, is there not' he said to me, "in this silence; for hearts that are wounded, as mine is, a novelist who you will read in time to come asserts that there is no remedy but silence and shadow".

The book is full of beautiful reminisences on many things. Some of them include his love of hawthorns and cornflowers which remind him of his first love and also of a particular walk that his family took that he referred to as "Swann's way" (also the title of the 1st volume).

While the first novel focuses on a friend of Marcel Proust (aka the narrator's) family and his love for his future wife the second novel focuses on Marcel's own first loves. He first loves Swann's own daughter Gilberte, but because of his inability to fully attract her later moves on. While vacationing at the seaside town of Balbec he falls in love with Albertine a dark haired girl with lovely plump cheeks that he longs to kiss.

The second novel is filled with beautiful reminiscences about how we often don't love the people we see before us but really our own image of them. For instance:

"very few people understand the purely subjective nature of the phenomenon we call love, or how it creates, so to speak, a supplementary person, so distinct from teh person whom the world knows by the same name"

"To the Gilberte whom I carried within me. I ought to have reminded myself that the other, the real Gilberte, was perhaps entirely different from mine."

I have seen this to be true with the infatuations which I have had. I have discovered myself that the people I am interested in have very little in common with the reality that other people see. For instance, I somehow add charming characteristics that they don't possess to the degree I assume or believe their behaviours to have a different charming meaning from the one that they actually do.

My two other favorite quotes include:

"If God the Father had created things by naming them, it was by taking away their names or giving them other names that Elstir created them anew"

This quote speaks of how the artist takes the beauty that God creates and paints it in a different light that allows us to see them in a different way.

When Proust speaks of love he talks of it as magic experience that is hard to describe.

When it "relates to love, it is best to make no attempt to understand, since in so far as these are as inexorable as they are unlooked-for, the appear to be governed by magic rather than rational laws"

Of course I was amused by that quote because magic is one of my great loves. Unfortunately, love is one magic that I have never been able to figure out the secret for.

That might be why I love these two books so much. Proust shows in beautiful detail the search for love in all of its pain and mystery. As a shy and ill boy he struggled with trying to figure out its secrets and portrays his own personal story while talking about universal truths in beauty and love.

The next book is the Brothers Karamazov which I have already read and loved. I will do a brief review of it before moving on to the sixth novel, Moby Dick. I am extremely excited to read it!!