Books and more books

I recently read To Kill a Mockingbird. It talks of racist Alabama where a man is found guilty of a crime he didn’t commit, against common sense and also about a white man who is determined to do the right thing even if it costs him his reputation.

And of Scout and Jem and their neighbours and friends and of the Ewells; poor, dirty and morally bankrupt. Aunt Alex, those nosy aunts you are better off without.

And Atticus, the lawyer, father and friend of his children. He is adorable. He is firm. And he is principled.

If you haven’t read this book and you have time to spare, you should add it to your list.

House of Death by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

It is a story about prison life in Siberia. If you have bee to prison, I need not tell you how prison life is. If you haven’t been to prison, you may want to hear it from Alexander, that is, if you don’t have friends in prison 🙂

Dostoyevsky writes, about the nature of punishment, that

if it were desired to reduce a man to nothing- to punish him atrociously, to crush him in such a manner that the most hardened murderer would tremble before such a punishment, and take fright beforehand- it would be necessary to give to his a work a character of complete uselessness, even to absurdity.

It should be noted, he thinks work, as long as it has an aim, is tolerable. This is similar to the argument by Nietzsche among others, that work is expiation and that without it, life becomes intolerable.

He writes

No man lives, can live, without having some object in view and making efforts to attain that object.

He was definitely opposed to corporal punishment. About this he writes

the right granted to a man to inflict corporal punishment on his fellow-men is one of the plague-spots of our society. It is the means of annihilating all civic spirit.

And writing about reality, he says

Reality is a thing of infinite diversity and defies the most ingenious deductions and definition of abstract thought, nay, abhors the clear and precise classifications we so delight in.

And talking about men and their hearts,

you’ll never know what’s at the bottom of the man’s mind or heart

and finally, when some convicts who attempted t escape were rearrested and brought back to the convict prison, he wrote

success is everything in this world.

This last statement says a lot about humans.

I don’t know about you

but I find this talk by Kirillov in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed very interesting. This is towards the end of the book where Pyotr Stepanofitch has an interview with Kirillov, wants him to write a suicide note claiming responsibility for some murders that have just taken place among them. Kirillov says

I have no higher idea than disbelief in god. I have all the history of mankind on my side. Man has done nothing but invent god so as to go on living and not kill himself; that’s the whole of universal history up till now. I am the first one in the whole history of mankind who could not invent god. Let them know it once and for all.

They continue the interview then he says, as if continuing his earlier train of thought, that

I can’t understand how an atheist could know that there is no god and not kill himself on the spot. To recognize that there is no god and not to recognize at the same instant that one is god oneself is an absurdity, else one would certainly kill oneself.

Nikolay Stavrogin says in a letter to Darsha he cannot kill himself for an idea, in fact he says he can’t believe in an idea as Kirillov. At the end he kills himself and says no one is to blame.

I think everyone is possessed in this book.

What are your thoughts on the statements by Kirillov on unbelief?

The Idiot

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Is a novel that tells story of a prince[?] who has returned from Switzerland where he was being treated for epilepsy[idiocy?] who knows? Dostoevsky doesn’t say. He has been there four years and now returns to mother Russia to follow up on a letter he has received detailing his inheritance from one of his late benefactors.

Dostoevsky tells us the story of the Epanchin’s lovely girls, their relationship with their eccentric mother, their gentleman father and their many suitors.

Nastasia Philipovna is a strange but beautiful girl. It is hard to determine whether she is insane or just difficult, but a great character all the same.

Rogojin who is in love with Nastasia ends up killing her. Well, one can understand why. Twice, she run away from him just when they were about to wed. She decides to wed our idiot prince from whom he flees to the hands of Rogojin who we have said already kills her.

There are minor characters like Lebeddef, Budorsky, Colia, Varavara, Varia, Adelaide, Alexandra, Prince S, Evgenie and others who contribute to the development of the plot.

The prince is in love with two women, Nastasia and Aglaya. He agrees to wed Nastasia just after proposing to Aglaya in their house in the presence of family and a few members of society. The scandal rocks Pavlofs where they have been residing and the family decides to move away.

There is a little talk about religion and atheism. Dostoevsky through the prince argues that Roman Catholicism is unchristian. He writes

[….]‘It is not a Christian religion, in the first place,’ [..] ‘And in the second place, Roman Catholicism is, in my opinion, worse than Atheism itself. Yes— that is my opinion. Atheism only preaches a negation, but Romanism goes further; it preaches a disfigured, distorted Christ—it preaches Anti-Christ—I assure you, I swear it! This is my own personal conviction, and it has long distressed me. The Roman Catholic believes that the Church on earth cannot stand without universal temporal Power. He cries ‘non possumus!’ In my opinion the Roman Catholic religion is not a faith at all, but simply a continuation of the Roman Empire, and everything is subordinated to this idea—beginning with faith. The Pope has seized territories and an earthly throne, and has held them with the sword. And so the thing has gone on, only that to the sword they have added lying, intrigue, deceit, fanaticism, superstition, swindling;—they have played fast and loose with the most  sacred and sincere feelings of men;—they have exchanged everything—everything for money, for base earthly POWER! And is this not the teaching of Anti-Christ? How could the upshot of all this be other than Atheism? Atheism is the child of Roman Catholicism—it proceeded from these Romans themselves, though perhaps they would not believe it. It grew and fattened on hatred of its parents; it is the progeny of their lies and spiritual feebleness.

And says about atheists

Atheism! In our country it is only among the upper classes that you find unbelievers; men who have lost the root or spirit of their faith; but abroad whole masses of the people are beginning to profess unbelief—at first because of the darkness and lies by which they were surrounded; but now out of fanaticism, out of loathing for the Church and Christianity!’

As the curtain closes on this novel, the prince is back in Switzerland for treatment, Adelaide’s wedding has been postponed, Rogojin is in prison for murder, Hippolyte is dead.

Note: There are those who have written elsewhere that the Idiot as compared to The Brothers Karamozov is a better novel. I disagree with them. The Brothers Karamazov covers the themes of morality, religion, love in much more detail as compared to the Idiot. Both novels however are all well written.

Happy New Year friends and followers

The Brothers Karamazov

This review may not do justice to this treatise on ethics, morality and god. I will not talk about all the books, there plot is arranged in books, except I will mention just a few parts in the novel that caught my attention, a brief description of the important characters and those conversations that grabbed my attention. I however encourage everyone to read it.

I had mentioned about this book in one of my recent reviews but I think it deserves a post on its own. The author of this book, Fyodor Dostoevsky died less than four months after it’s publication. He had meant this book to be the first part in an epic titled The Life of a Great Sinner.

The novel is a passionate philosophical treatise on ethics, god, morality and family. The author is a great story-teller. The novel is a first person narrative set in a small town in Russia. The major characters are the Karamazovs, who consist of the father Fyodor Pavlovich and sons Dmitri the ex- Lieutenant , Ivan the atheist and Alexey the young monk. Their father is an irresponsible daddy. He does not take care of his sons, who are taken care of by well wishers and their valet Grigory.

The major conflict in the book that ends in tragedy has two antagonisers; on one side the Karamazov family and on the other two ladies Katerina and Grusha who are presented as two very opposite ladies in way of character. Grusha we are made to believe is a lady of lose morals who is the source of conflict between father and Dmitri. Both of them are in love with her and here lies the greatest rivalry in the book. Katya though betrothed to Dmitri is also falling in love with Ivan or should i say Ivan has fallen in love with her. This however is not a source of conflict between the brothers. There is however a conflict between the two ladies that finally as we will come to see is the reason Mitya is destroyed.

We are introduced to all the major players in the story by book 3. There is a discussion between Ivan and Alexey, though it is Ivan who talks the most. The Grand Inquisitor, where Ivan shows Aloysha why rejects god’s world. He talks about the problem of suffering and the Spanish inquisition and goes ahead to give a hypothetical situation that even Jesus were to show up at that moment, the old bishop would have him killed.

The tragedy that I refer to is the murder of Pavlovich Karamazov and all the evidence when considered together point to Dmitri as the offender. The reader is however shown the real culprit, Smerdyakov, rumoured to be the illegitimate son of Fyodor and Lizaveta. There is an investigation and then the trial. It is the trial that interests so much, there is a blatant travesty of justice. The witnesses for the prosecution keep to their stories though the lawyer for the defense manages to show the witnesses are not reliable and that the evidence is all circumstantial. In his closing remarks, the prosecutor gives his greatest performance to all Russia. He grows through the whole case for the jury in his closing remarks painting Mitya as guilty of the murder of his father. Mitya, from the moment of his arrest has maintained he is a scoundrel but not a thief and that he is not guilty of the murder of his father. The prosecution is determined to have Mitya pay for the murder of the old man and doesn’t even try to look for a different suspect as we would expect from an impartial officer. The lawyer for the defense in his star performance shows in detail that the prosecutor’s case is based on circumstantial evidence and that in his closing remarks, the prosecutor has romanticized the whole case and he feels, rightly so, that his client is not guilty. He then raises an important question of who is father, laying ground that even if Mitya had killed Pavlovich, the man doesn’t deserve to be called a father. He is done nothing, other than begetting the sons, to be worthy of the title father. He is addressing all fathers in Russia and generally all parents and invokes scripture to make his case. Am saddened by the verdict of the jury, there is no way of explaining their attitude towards Mitya! It is a railroad all through, all circumstantial evidence and conjecture and the evidence from Katya, who gives two contradictory testimonies in the same court in the same day. I think the president of the court ought to have struck her evidence from the transcript.

In the final book, Epilogue, we are told of a plan to help Mitya escape. This plan arranged by Ivan who has been taken ill and Katya, we are told involved bribing some guards at one of the interchanges. In her visit to Mitya in the prison before the transfer, Katya and Grusha meet, and she [Grusha] gives a condition for forgiving Katya, that is freedom of Mitya. We don’t know every detail of this plan however and we don’t know whether it succeeded. The curtain closes with the Illusha’s funeral and Alexey imploring the boys to love one another and to always remember each other.

The god hypothesis

I will start by saying the title is very misleading, it’s not god I want to talk about today, on the contrary I just want to write about things as I have seen them in the last few days. On Friday I stayed in traffic for slightly over two hours and the most part of that time we didn’t move a feet. I think all car owners in Nairobi are dim wits. Any time it rains all I think is they must use their brains for umbrellas! It defeats my why they all seem to be in a rush, throw all courtesy out of the window; none wants to give way. For a moment there is collective stupidity, all they are doing is hooting at each other at the same time, they are the very people responsible for the gridlock. Sometimes I want to be the city prefect just to bring some order, but this is just as a wish, am not seeing it become real since we have no Napoleon or Bishop Sixtus for France and Rome respectively.

On other news, I was up-country again and while I was away I here Sirikal[Gor Mahia FC] lost the KPL cup and some disgruntled supporters went on a mayhem causing damage to property of unknown amount of value. I don’t care what you think, but I will maintain football is a game for hooligans and an excuse to hooliganism. There are people who hold it that should Raila win in the next election his kinsmen [yours truly included] will be ungovernable, and for evidence they quote the hooligans who throw stones every time Gor FC loses a match, well I don’t know about you but it is only an obtuse person who would come with such an absurd idea.

I finished reading The Rebel: An essay about man in revolt by Albert Camus and he does it again in this volume. If you haven’t read any of his books, it is time to do so, you could while at it start with The Myth of Sisyphus and I promise you it will be a worthwhile cause. In the rebel he starts with the question of suicide ,which he covered in his essay the Myth of Sisyphus, and asks the all important question ‘if we can allow suicide for one man, can we allow murder universally? He then continues on the subject matter for which this essay is about, a man in revolt. A slave says yes and no to his master, and in this answer there is no contradiction, the yes is up to that point, the master could treat him as he wished but beyond that point he says no. He recognizes at that moment there is something inherent in him and all humanity that he can’t allow himself to be treated as such and it is here he lays the case for a revolution. 

I mentioned a few days ago I was reading Bert Ehrman’s God’s problem:How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer  and here, he explores the problem of suffering and why the bible fails to answer this big problem. I particularly like his treatment of the story of Job. In this poetic dialogue, for those of you in the know, Job is a sinless man in one evil city and even god acknowledges this. Satan not impressed by this, a rich person who is obedient to god, pushes god to place a bet that if Job was to lose everything he’d curse god, well you know how the story ends. When Job is before god, he demands an explanation for his suffering but there is no response from god. In fact all god does is to awe Job in his majesty though even that state Job still maintains his innocence. All we can infer from the entire episode is that Job suffered so god could win a bet. I don’t know about you, but am not worshiping this god even if he/she/it were to exist. Such a god is not worthy of worship by any right thinking person.

In the book am reading currently,which I will write more about in due course, there is a dialogue between Alyosha and a young lad Krassotkin when he goes to see Illusha the young lad from his school and he [Krassotkin] says

Oh i have nothing against god. Of course, god is only a hypothesis,but ……… I admit that he is needed…….for the order of the universe and all that….and if there were no god he would have to be invented.

I think, I want to agree with Krassotkin on this one.