November 01, 2023

Books We Liked

“Ah, have the Karamazovs been making mischief yet again?” asks a disreputable acquaintance of the disreputable family. “No doubt about it.”

New translations are always a good reason to reread the classics. I confess I tried and failed to get through Братья Карамазовы during the pandemic, so I’m grateful to Michael R. Katz for providing such a readable English edition.  For example, Dmitry Karamazov’s exuberant complaint about Agrafena Alexandrovna Svetlova’s allure: “I tell you: she has a certain curve. Grushenka, the witch, has a certain curve to her body; it even shows in her little foot, even in her little toe on her left foot. I’ve seen it and kissed it …” (“У Грушеньки, шельмы, есть такой один изгиб тела, он и на ножке у ней отразился, даже в пальчике-мизинчике на левой ножке отозвался. Видел и целовал …”)

Dostoevsky’s last novel, published in 1880, has so many highlights, but what I had forgotten is how long and sustained those highlights are: the Grand Inquisitor, the “shocking” aspect of Father Zosima’s corpse, Ivan and his devil, Dmitry’s trial. Neither did I remember how wonderfully entertainingly terrible papa Fyodor Karamazov is: “‘Dmitry Fyodorovich! … If you weren’t my own son, I’d challenge you to a duel this very second… With pistols, at a distance of three paces … across a handkerchief! Across a handkerchief!’ he concluded, stamping his feet.”

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