The Brothers Karamazov
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Brothers Karamazov is often used as a way to introduce Christian thought to nonbelievers. Much of Dostoyevsky's fiction concerns itself with Christian concepts or thoughts on Christian responses to life's problems, none more famously than The Brothers Karamazov, particularly in the chapter "The Grand Inquisitor."
The story of the three brothers in the Karamazov family is a tale of struggle, particularly struggles with faith. Dostoyevsky writes from a firmly committed Christian standpoint, but does not shy away from hard questions that pose real problems for anyone looking to avoid a simplistic faith (not to be confused with "simple faith"). Dostoyevsky's faith is not for the faint of heart nor those who are afraid to think about troubling issues. He is not afraid to confront questions such as human suffering and the intellectual obstacle that poses when one is truly questioning her or his faith.
The Brothers Karamazov centres around sibling rivalry – much like some of the famed brothers in the Bible, such as Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, and the sons of Israel. In Dostoyevsky's novel, the dialogue between Ivan and Aloysha is the site where the discussion of faith is most foregrounded, providing one of the most profound theological discussions not on in this book, but in all of Western literature. In this novel, the authority of God is challenged and the most fundamental aspects of human faith challenged. In the end, one would not be faulted for feeling that there are not completely satisfactory answers offered. For me, that is part of the point. The answers are not completely satisfying, but there is a deep contentment in knowing that the process of questioning is not only allowed, but embraced by people of deep faith. For the Christian who has found her or himself looking for a community that welcomes the hard questions, Dostoyevsky and The Brothers Karamazov should be perfect company.
reviewed by Shelly Bryant ©2015