All the letters I can write (wendelah1) wrote in fdostoevsky,
All the letters I can write

Dostoevsky Newbie

This is my first post here. I am the new moderator at book_reading. I expect many of you may be very experienced readers of Dostoevsky in general, and The Brothers Karamazov in particular. I, alas, am not. However, it is a book I have always wanted to read, so I have chosen it for this month's selection. I guess what I am asking for are any suggestions you might make as to how to approach this book for the first time. I am not a literature scholar, or a scholar at all. I am a decently educated reader with some experience of leading a book group.
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My only advice is to make sure your reading group is working with a good translation (i.e. anything that is not Constance Garnett). *lol* Garnett's work is in the public domain and so books that use her translation are inexpensive; unfortunately, her translation is also indescribably shoddy, and you'll do yourself a disservice if you pick up a bargain bin Garnett paperback instead of one of the more recent translations. (I won't pick favorites and specify whose.)

Terribly obvious advice, and not very scholarly, but I don't feel qualified to tell you which direction to steer through The Brothers K. It's a fabulous book, though - I'm sure your reading comm will love it, as (like all of Dostoevsky's work) it's much more about human psychology than plot or artistic devices and lends itself well to discussion.


May 2 2008, 19:47:27 UTC 9 years ago Edited:  May 2 2008, 19:48:07 UTC

her translation is also indescribably shoddy,

Because it is inaccurate? Badly written? Politically incorrect? You need to give me a better explanation to convince me to go spend money on a new edition when I have what appears to me to be a perfectly readable one sitting right here in front of me. I don't read Russian so I am not in any position to judge the accuracy of one over another. I know that many students (the average age at LJ is I believe, seventeen) don't have the money to spend on a new expensive edition either. I have the money. I just need to know why I should bother, so that I can then convince my as yet non-existent members that they should buy one too.
Inaccurate and badly written, though I suppose they overlap. Garnett skipped over bits she didn't feel like bothering with, made no effort to preserve the style of the original prose, and simplified or outright deleted many passages. Also, a lot of the diction is Edwardian, which makes for sometimes strange word choices (ex. using 'thou' to translate the Russian intimate form of 'you', which doesn't communicate well to a modern English speaker /or/ reflect the tone of the Russian usage).

I'm not saying that Garnett is the worst thing you could ever read, not by a long shot - her translations of Russian classics made many of them widely available for the first time in English. However, if you really want to communicate with Dostoevsky, I would still recommend shying away from Garnett if possible. should provide some options for buying other translations secondhand for relatively cheap ($3 - $7 is what I'm getting after a quick search), or one could always check local or college libraries.

(I'm not trying to be snooty about this, by the way - I had to learn from experience myself. My first read-through of Bros. K was with Garnett, but when I brought my copy to a college Dostoevsky class, the normally easygoing professor refused to let me use it for the coursework, since it was so off base from the original.)
I second that wholeheartedly.

Sadly I can't recommend any translations into English as I read the original and the German version, translated by Swetlana Geier who is a genius.
I envy you your ability with languages. I think I must have tried to learn them too late in life. Thank you for your kind response. I will buy a newer translation and suggest that anyone who joins me would be best off doing the same.
I thank you for your candor. My husband is going to read the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, so I might as well go look for a copy. I think the paperback edition is about $16.00 and I have a $5.00 savings coupon, so I will probably just buy one at the local Borders. I am so sad. My little Signet edition is so cute and portable plus it cost all of 75 cents back in 1975. I will keep it for purposes of comparison. It is the edition my generation read back in the day, but I guess it time to take advantage of what the 21st century has to offer. LOL.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky's translation is absolutely wonderful! I strongly recommend it! :)
*late, but...*

I completely agree. That's the version we're reading in class right now for AP English, and everything flows smoothly and in a way that makes the 700+ page novel interesting and fun, not boring and tedious to read.
You're reading TBK for AP English? How does that work? I'm glad you are having an easier time with it than I did. It took me five months to finish it.
Yeah, at my high school all AP English classes are required to read TBK. (And I'm glad of that, now that I've read more of it.)

We've been reading it since...*checks reading schedule* November 6th ('08), and we should be finished by February 5th ('09), so about the same time for us--four months instead of five, however. I still wish we would [have more time to] discuss more, however--I feel like these three-four months haven't been enough to discuss the hugeness that is TBK. :/ The novel has been going pretty well for me, though--especially once we discuss it and contribute all of our ideas on it. (My English teacher mostly guides the discussions and doesn't ever offer her opinions on the text unless we're totally "wrong".)

And as I mentioned above, we have a reading schedule that my teacher handed out when we started the novel. We usually read about 30-60 pages a night, but if it's over a couple of nights we read 60-100 pages. (For example, I should be through chapters 1-3 of Book X--pg. 563-585 for yesterday and should read through chapters 4-5--pg. 586-603 for Monday. However, I'm behind--still on pg. 512--so I have to read about 100 pages for Monday....^^;;)

For our midyear exam we had to be through page 512 (end of part III) and our exam was two essays that discussed parts of the novel we didn't discuss in class, but using themes of the novel (active love, confession, ect.) that we'd discussed in class.

We've currently also done two long essays on the novel (one on Dmitri's confession and one on The Grand Inquisitor and what it reveals about Ivan's personality) and my teacher says we will have one more essay before the novel is done (or after it is done, I forget which).

Sorry for the long ramble; I think that's about it...