Book Review: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Considered as the pinnacle of Dostoyevsky’s work, “The Brothers Karamazov” is a captivating tale that revolves around the murder of Father Karamazov committed by his four sons, each sharing some responsibility for the crime. Amidst this thrilling plot, the novel delves into profound philosophical discussions on topics such as religion, reason, freedom, and the concept of guilt within society.

If you’re short on time, don’t worry. This book review offers a comprehensive overview of the key takeaways from “The Brothers Karamazov.” So, let’s dive right in without any further delay.

Plot Summary


The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is a captivating novel that delves into the intricate lives of the Karamazov family. Set in a small Russian town, the story follows the lives of three brothers—Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha—and their father, Fyodor Karamazov. As the narrative unfolds, we witness a series of complex relationships, moral dilemmas, and a crime that shakes the foundations of their lives.

Book I: A Family Plagued by Neglect and Debauchery

The book begins by painting a dark portrait of Fyodor Karamazov, the wealthy but morally bankrupt father of the brothers. Fyodor’s vices and neglectful nature have left a lasting impact on his sons. Dmitri, the eldest, Ivan, the intellectual middle child, and Alyosha, the youngest and most pious, have all returned to their hometown. Alyosha, seeking solace, enters a local monastery as a novice, while the other two brothers struggle with their own demons.

Book II: Family Problems and Philosophical Debates

Fyodor and his sons, along with other notable figures, gather in the cell of Father Zossima, a wise and revered monk. Amidst heated discussions about the relationship between church and state, a dispute erupts between Fyodor and Dmitri over money and a woman named Grushenka. The evening ends in chaos, with insults hurled and relationships strained.

Book III: Confessions and Conflicts

The narrator delves into the troubled past of the Karamazov family, exploring the relationships between various characters. Dmitri recounts his tempestuous love affairs, particularly with Katerina, who later becomes his fiancée. The despairing Dmitri confesses his desire to break off the engagement and pursue a relationship with Grushenka. Meanwhile, Smerdyakov, Fyodor’s servant, engages in a disturbing theological debate with Alyosha, casting doubt on his own faith.

Book IV: A Mentor’s Farewell and New Beginnings

Father Zossima, Alyosha’s mentor, falls gravely ill and addresses the monks before his passing. He entrusts Alyosha’s spiritual journey to Father Paissy. Alyosha receives a letter from Lise Hohlakov, confessing her love for him. Meanwhile, Fyodor’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and disturbing, causing unrest among the brothers. Ivan abruptly leaves town, ignoring his father’s request for a business transaction.

Book V: Love, Betrayal, and Despair

Alyosha visits Grushenka, who is torn between her affections for Dmitri and another man. Katerina falls ill, and her mother, Madame Hohlakov, disapproves of Alyosha’s relationship with Lise. Alyosha later encounters Dmitri, who is desperate and disillusioned by Grushenka’s true character. The events spiral into chaos as Dmitri impulsively confronts his father, leading to his arrest for Fyodor’s murder.

Book VI: A Dying Mentor’s Legacy

Father Zossima’s impending death deeply affects Alyosha. He visits his mentor and receives his final teachings on the Christian life. Alyosha reads a letter from Lise, expressing her love for him, and experiences a profound spiritual awakening.

Book VII: Controversy Surrounding

Father Zossima’s Remains Following Father Zossima’s death, conflicting rumors arise about his body’s decay, tarnishing his reputation. Alyosha, disheartened by the sl. Click to expand them. As the trial progresses, the defense attorney, Fetyukovich, presents an alternative psychological explanation for Dmitri’s behavior towards Gregory and questions the lack of concrete evidence against Dmitri.

He suggests that Fyodor himself may have emptied the envelope and left it on the floor, casting doubt on whether a robbery actually took place. Fetyukovich also directs suspicion towards Smerdyakov, emphasizing his cowardly character and the inconsistencies in various scenarios involving him.

In his closing statement, Fetyukovich argues that while Dmitri may have expressed hatred for his father, it does not prove his guilt. He highlights the absence of irrefutable evidence against Dmitri and urges the jury not to be prejudiced against him for hating his father, who did not merit love. Fetyukovich suggests that even if Dmitri struck his father, it does not necessarily mean he intended to kill him.

After both lawyers accuse each other of engaging in flights of fancy, Dmitri makes a final plea of innocence and asks the jury to free him. Despite the crowd’s belief that the defense attorney made a strong case and that Dmitri would be acquitted, the jury surprisingly returns a verdict of guilty on all counts.

In the epilogue, five days after the trial, Ivan is unconscious from brain fever and is being cared for by Katerina. Alyosha visits him regularly and informs Katerina that Ivan has entrusted her with the details of an escape plan. Alyosha then tells her that Dmitri would like her to visit him in prison.

Alyosha goes to the prison hospital where Dmitri is confined. Dmitri shares his intention to escape to America and then return to Russia in disguise after a few years because of his love for his homeland. Katerina arrives, and both she and Dmitri declare their unwavering love for each other, despite their love for Ivan and Grushenka, respectively. When Grushenka suddenly appears, Katerina begs for her forgiveness, but Grushenka says that she has already forgiven Katerina and wishes her happiness with Dmitri. Grushenka reveals that she has come to say goodbye to Dmitri and wishes him well in his escape to America.

As they bid farewell, Alyosha witnesses a moment of reconciliation and forgiveness between the two women, symbolizing the possibility of redemption and healing even in the midst of pain and betrayal.

After their departure, Alyosha is left contemplating the complexities of human relationships and the power of forgiveness. He reflects on the lessons he learned from his mentor, Father Zossima, about the importance of compassion and understanding.

The novel concludes with Alyosha returning to the monastery, carrying with him the experiences and lessons from his encounters with his brothers and the people involved in the trial. He seeks solace and guidance in his faith, knowing that the world outside is full of suffering and moral ambiguity.

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Key Characters

Fyodor Karamazov – The evil father of the four Karamazov brothers, he is murdered by his son Smerdyakov. The character is based on Dostoevsky’s own father.

Dmitri Karamazov – Fyodor’s eldest son and the only child of his first wife Adelaide, Dmitri grows up to be a wastrel and profligate who is unable to control his temper. He is arrested for his father’s murder. Dostoevsky himself was much like Dmitri in his youth.

Ivan Karamazov – The elder son of Fyodor’s pure and lovely second wife Sophia, Ivan is the intellectual among the brothers, and an atheist.

Alyosha Karamazov – The younger son of Fyodor and Sophia, Alyosha is an innocent, accepting of all and caring little for his own advancement, and obsessed with moral purity. At the age of nineteen, he enters the monastery in the town of his father’s estate. He is a devout Christian and the protagonist of the story.

Smerdyakov – An epileptic valet in Fyodor’s house, raised by Gregory and his wife Marfa, who is really the illegitimate son of Fyodor Karamazov and Lizaveta, the mute idiot who dies while giving birth to him. He is silent, contemptuous, cruel, and cunning. He murders his father and then hangs himself.

Peter Perhotin – The officer who initiates the investigation of Fyodor Karamazov’s murder.

Michael Makarov – The police captain in charge of the murder investigation.

Varvinsky – The district doctor who performs the autopsy on Karamazov’s body.

Ippolit Kirillovitch – The deputy public prosecutor who pursues the case against Dmitri Karamazov.

Nicholas Nelyudov – The investigating lawyer in the Karamazov case.

Fetyukovitch – The defense attorney in Dmitri’s trial.

Father Zossima – The elder of the monastery into which Alyosha entered, and the young man’s mentor; a holy and godly man.

Father Paissy – Close friend of Father Zossima, given care over Alyosha when the old monk dies.

Rakitin – Cynical theological student who despises Alyosha’s faith, tries to corrupt him.

Peter Miusov – Adelaide’s brother and thus Fyodor’s brother-in-law. He helped care for Dmitri in his early years. He is a worldly freethinker and atheist.

Gregory – Old servant of Fyodor Karamazov who cared for his sons after they were rejected by their father.

Katerina – Dmitri’s fiancee, whom he rejected in favor of the immoral Grushenka. She then falls in love with Ivan.

Grushenka – A beautiful but reputedly loose woman desired by both Dmitri and his father. She ultimately falls in love with Dmitri.

Kuzma Samsonov – An old merchant who pays for Grushenka’s apartment and her favors.

Madame Hohlakov – A wealthy widow and a friend of the Karamazov brothers.

Lise – Invalid teenage daughter of Madame Hohlakov, she is in love with Alyosha but is cruel and hysterical and eventually repudiates him. The character is modeled on Dostoevsky’s first wife.

Captain Snegiryov – A retired officer beaten by Dmitri in a tavern brawl.

Ilusha Snegiryov – The captain’s son, teased by his friends because of what happens to his father; involved in a stone-throwing incident, after which he bites Alyosha’s finger, becomes seriously ill, is reconciled with his friends with Alyosha’s help, and finally dies.

Kolya Krassotkin – A proud young boy who initially befriends, later deserts, and again befriends Ilusha.


1. Multi-Dimensional Characters and Philosophical Debates

Dostoevsky’s characters in “The Brothers Karamazov” are incredibly well-developed and speak with their own unique voices. The novel presents a wide range of philosophical thoughts and debates through these characters.

From doubting reason to fervent faith, from ironic parodies of faith to incipient atheism, the novel explores a rich tapestry of philosophical viewpoints. Dostoevsky’s ability to weave these debates into the narrative is truly remarkable, provoking readers to engage in serious contemplation about matters of life, mortality, and the state of society.

2. Innovative Narrative Technique

One of the striking aspects of the book is Dostoevsky’s departure from the traditional use of an omniscient narrator. Instead, he employs a “third person” narrator who writes himself into the narrative, expressing uncertainty about the information presented.

This creates a subjective voice within the book, drawing readers into the characters’ experiences and emotions. By breaking away from conventional storytelling methods, Dostoevsky adds an extra layer of depth and introspection to the novel, making it an immersive and captivating read.

3. The Exploration of Redemption and Individual Suffering

A significant theme in “The Brothers Karamazov” is the concept of redemption through individual suffering. Following the murder of their father, the four sons each grapple with their own torments and collective guilt, ultimately pointing towards redemption and healing.

This exploration of personal suffering and its connection to redemption resonates deeply with Christian teachings. However, Dostoevsky’s take on Christianity in the novel is passionate and personal, allowing readers from diverse backgrounds, whether Christians or atheists, existentialists or psychologists, to find their own challenges and meanings within the text.

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1. Translation Difficulties

Choosing the right translation of “The Brothers Karamazov” is crucial for a fulfilling reading experience. The Pevear translation, though highly acclaimed for its faithfulness to the original text, can make it difficult for most readers to grasp the essence of the story.

The syntax and voicing of each character, which Dostoevsky took pride in creating, are often sacrificed in favor of readability. This sacrifice can result in awkward phrasing and disruptive sentence structures, causing readers to lose the tone of each character.

On the other hand, the McDuff translation, while sacrificing some precision, offers a more natural flow and accessibility for English speakers. The trade-off between fidelity to the original and readability is something readers should consider when selecting a translation.

2. Complex Plot Structure and Abundance of Characters

“The Brothers Karamazov” presents a challenge with its complex plot structure and numerous characters. The novel includes unrelated plots that only connect to the main plot through a character, which can make it confusing to follow at times.

Moreover, the Russian naming scheme and the multitude of characters with various versions of difficult pronunciations can be overwhelming and hard to keep straight, particularly for readers unfamiliar with Russian names. The abundance of characters, coupled with their often unlikeable qualities, may make it difficult for readers to form a strong connection or identification with them.

3. Rambling Philosophical Diversions

One aspect of the novel that may not resonate with all readers is the extensive philosophical digressions. Dostoevsky delves into deep discussions on topics such as religion, God, socialism, happiness, and love. While these philosophical diversions were likely daring in their time, they can come across as rambling and self-indulgent to modern readers.

Some sections, such as the one focused on the monastery, may feel lengthy and meandering, leaving readers questioning their relevance to the overall narrative. These philosophical detours require patience and a particular interest in the subject matter to fully appreciate their significance.


The Brothers Karamazov is a profound exploration of human nature, morality, and the complex dynamics of family relationships. It delves into the depths of the human psyche, presenting characters who grapple with their desires, doubts, and the consequences of their actions.

Through its rich tapestry of themes and thought-provoking philosophical discussions, the novel continues to captivate readers with its timeless exploration of the human condition.

About The Author

Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–81) was a Russian novelist born in Moscow. He achieved critical success at the young age of 25 with his first published work, “Poor Folk,” which was an introspective novel. Dostoyevsky was involved in liberal politics and faced trouble when he was arrested in 1849. Initially sentenced to death, his punishment was later changed to hard labor in Siberia, an experience he later wrote about in “The House of the Dead” (1862).

After being released in 1859, Dostoyevsky found himself in poor health and financial circumstances. His novels, including “Notes from the Underground” (1864), “The Idiot” (1869), “The Possessed” (1871), and “The Brothers Karamazov” (1880), depicted human suffering in a realistic and mystical manner, showcasing his skillful psychological analysis.

Unlike other Russian novelists of the time such as Turgenev and Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky held strong Slavophile beliefs. He was a passionate admirer of the Russian people and believed in their superiority over the Western world.

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