viernes, 2 de enero de 2015

The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Above all, avoid lies, all lies, especially the lie to yourself. Keep watch on your own lie and examine it every hour, every minute. And avoid contempt, both of others and of yourself: what seems bad to you in yourself is purified by the very fact that you have noticed it in yourself. And avoid fear, though fear is simply the consequence of every lie.(57) 
Family. You can't pick. You are either happy to be around them or you are stuck with them. You can choose your friends, a pet, you can choose between a blueberry muffin and a chocolate chip one, but you can't choose your family. The combination of genetics and the social environment are simply fascinating. For example, take an ordinary Russian family. An ambitious, lascivious, ridiculous father that enjoyed alcohol in any form; a son that, at first, seemed to be the image of his father, a second son, proud and intellectual with even more  questionable moral reactions, the youngest son with the kindness of a saint and the troubled soul of a common man and another weak, disturbing young man that never counted as a son. This book contains the story of every family in the world. Their struggles, their fears, their doubts, the decisions that reflect the highest and most degrading aspects of human nature.

“There is a force that will endure everything,” said Ivan, this time with a cold smirk.
“What force?”
“The Karamazov force ... the force of the Karamazov baseness.”
“To drown in depravity, to stifle your soul with corruption, is that it?” (210)

This book contains the history of the world. It's a major treatise on philosophy and religion. And yes, there is a lot of religion in here, but even me, a person that is struggling with a lack of faith and a deep ocean filled with doubts and fear, can still be interested and dazzled by all this.(Unless we are talking about the monk book. There were a couple of good things but, all in all, it was the only part of the book that made me want to take a really long nap. I must admit it, in the name of crude honesty. And my previous naive defense about how “even” me was interested? Yes, disregard it, I know I'm haunted by uncertainty and, therefore, obsessed with knowledge, no matter how limited I can be.)
“Can it be that you really hold this conviction about the consequences of the exhaustion of men’s faith in the immortality of their souls?” the elder suddenly asked Ivan Fyodorovich.
“Yes, it was my contention. There is no virtue if there is no immortality.”
“You are blessed if you believe so, or else most unhappy!”
“Maybe you’re right... ! But still, I wasn't quite joking either ... ,” Ivan Fyodorovich suddenly and strangely confessed—by the way, with a quick blush.
“You weren't quite joking, that is true. This idea is not yet resolved in your heart and torments it. But a martyr, too, sometimes likes to toy with his despair, also from despair, as it were. For the time being you, too, are toying, out of despair, with your magazine articles and drawing-room discussions, without believing in your own dialectics and smirking at them with your heart aching inside you ... The question is not resolved in you, and there lies your great grief, for it urgently demands resolution...” (66)
A sharp observation written with such an exquisite language. Get used to that. Once you reached Book V, you will found yourself drowning in a sea of mesmerizing erudition.

If you are expecting an explosive plot with a lot of things going on at the same time, with weird twists and vampires, fights and dragons, magic and flying dogs, then this book is not for you. There is a plot, of course, but the excellence of this book relies on the superb writing hidden among its pages. Dostoyevsky's trademark is his gifted ability to describe the human nature with the most elegant prose known to man. His insightful points of view on almost every subject that affect all humanity are written with admirable lyricism. Reading this particular writer can be an overwhelming experience. You have to be prepared. You have to get used to the idea that your soul might absorb the sorrowful and sometimes playful beauty of his writing. And once that happens, you won't be able to forget him. Dostoyevsky has the power of defeating oblivion. He personifies an unwanted light that illuminates every dark nook of our minds. He makes us think about what we like to see in ourselves and what we choose to hide.
Jealousy! “Othello is not jealous, he is trustful”... A truly jealous man is not like that. It is impossible to imagine all the shame and moral degradation a jealous man can tolerate without the least remorse. And it is not that they are all trite and dirty souls. On the contrary, it is possible to have a lofty heart, to love purely, to be full of self-sacrifice, and at the same time to hide under tables, to bribe the meanest people, and live with the nastiest filth of spying and eavesdropping... And one may ask what is the good of a love that must constantly be spied on, and what is the worth of a love that needs to be guarded so intensely? (293) 
I won't tell what the story is about. I will only say that I don't have favorite characters. They all annoy me or disgust me in the same contradictory way. But I do understand them, most of the times. I love the dialogs—the amazing reflections while they're deciding to act against everything that is good, they know what they're about to do is wrong but they can't help it; like it's in their blood—, the insightful remarks of our narrator and the fact that Dostoyevsky, one more time, lets me enter inside their characters' minds. He shares the complexity of all of them. And I'm enchanted by this man's ability of making everything beautiful, even while describing the most cruel aspects of humanity. And that leads me to another point.
I love reading other people's thoughts on the books I like. A particular opinion I read a while ago was about how Dostoyevsky seems to be a vicious misogynist because the way he wrote about Smerdyakov's mother, “Stinking Lizaveta”. I try not to make out of every word written by the author, a reflection of the person he or she really is. Crime writers don't usually murder every human they find. Mystery writers don't usually think that somebody's butler is always up to something. Just like an author that writes about how a woman is mistreated by a certain part of society, doesn't transforms himself into a brutal misogynist. He's being honest, he's describing the truth. Poor women and men were often considered worthless human beings (that hasn't changed that much). Dostoyevsky described it too vividly. But that was part of a crude reality. It's hard to read but that doesn't mean that kind of cruelty is uncommon.*
...people speak sometimes about the ‘animal’ cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to animals, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel. (193)
In conclusion, like I've said before, this book contains the history of the world. There is a torrent of misery and wisdom waiting for you. The way of representing the Russian soul is the way all souls should be represented; it transcends any geographical boundary, any limitation of time. We all have many sides of the Karamazovs' nature in our blood. We all have demons tormenting our good judgment. We all know what we should do and, sometimes, we simply can't do it. I can't justify everything but we are humans. I want to understand, I need to. We are susceptible to failure. To negligence. To vileness, dishonesty and many other abhorrent things. Once mistakes are made, only the most fortunate ones are able to find a path toward redemption. In this book, in this Russia that portrays the world of all times, some did. And some had to endure the bitter punishments that the choices in their lives have brought to them.
‘I love mankind,’ he said, ‘but I am amazed at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love people in particular, that is, individually, as separate persons... (56)
Yes. We are too human. We all have the sounds of a hungry solitude echoing in the dark depths of our beings; they often make us act by instinct, forgetting that we have been blessed—or doomed—with reason. And more important, they make us forget to feel love. And that, indeed, is a faithful depiction of what hell must feel like. A hell to which we will soon arrive by repeating to ourselves: everything is permitted.

*Just another reader's opinion.

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