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Enter the Russians

Enter the Russians

The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment were names I’d just heard a lot, mostly from superior Delhi University type friends who spoke of the writer in tones of hushed awe and respect. I, in my whole life of reading, talking about reading and finding new things to read, had never read the Russian Masters so I decided to go for it. Two weeks ago, I began my first Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov. And I couldn’t be happier. My train and bus commutes are like watching mini episodes of The Wire. In my head I’ve named my future children, Katerina and Anastasia. My days are filled with this book, its atmosphere, how it’s written. Of course, in two weeks I’ve barely made a dent in the tome but every page is promising. This book promises to be a family saga of great dramatic, proportions and so far I’m riveted like never before.

There are a couple of things I love so far about reading The Brothers Karamazov. One, the unnamed narrator, who seems to be the most chilled out guy on the planet. There is a bit in the text where he is giving the reader the story of Smerdyakovs birth and suddenly he brings the tale to a hasty end by saying apologetically, “But I must not bore you with stories of servants.” He seems so real to me, just like the rest of the characters do, but I don’t know anything about him except that he seems to belong to the same village as the Karamazovs. Will I learn his identity at page 1045, or is he going to be He who must not be named until the end. I don’t know.

The second thing I love about this book is the fact that each character is very lovingly and painstakingly sketched out but not in a way that makes me feel like I know them intimately. Some actions, the curl of a lip or a sneer perhaps, aren’t explained at all and I’m left wondering why the person did it. It’s like I’m watching the story unfold before me but I’m still not invited inside the actor’s heads. It’s very strange and unsettling. Sometimes, when a character is narrating a story to another – Dmitri Karamazov talking of why he is leaving his fiancé for instance – I somehow, seem to distrust them just a little bit. I catch myself thinking “I’m sure that’s not the whole story. He is definitely glossing over some things.”  I don’t know how Dostoevsky does it. I feel like I’m learning to read all over again.

The third thing that really fires every neuron in my brain is when the plot takes a whirl with drama. This morning, on the train, I missed my stop because I was so engrossed in a scene where Dmitri Karamazov throws his father to the floor and kicks his face with the heel of his boot.

It’s amazing. I have no idea why I haven’t read Dostoevsky before but I do know this. Now that I have started, no reading is likely to be the same.

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