If a greater novel than THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV has ever been written, I haven't found it yet.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, unquestionably among the greatest novelists of all time, finished his literary career on an emphatic note, publishing KARAMAZOV only a few months before his death. Herein are all of the masterful themes, motifs, and devices of Dostoevsky's earlier works, all converging in one culminating masterpiece: the chilling, penetrating introspection and gut-wrenching humanity of CRIME AND PUNISHMENT; the contrary depiction of man's capability to do good of THE IDIOT; the intrigue and dark satire of DEMONS; and the existentialistic inquisitiveness and philosophical investigation patent to NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND. Throw in an impeccably diverse and symbolic cast of characters; a gripping plot; and an inumberable quantity of subplots, moral struggles, and ideological discussion, and the end result is an epic tragedy that will evoke, throughout its course, the full range of emotions of its reader.
KARAMAZOV prominently features the most thoroughly unsympathetic literary character since... well, does Satan from THE BIBLE count? This character is the patriarch of the eponymous siblings, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, and he is everything that is detestable and despicable about human nature: a liar, an adulterer, a penny-pincher, an absent father, a womanizer, and possibly worse. He has fathered four children (presumably; the novel accounts for three and hints at a fourth), and raised none of them. But that's not the worst of what he's done. What is? Well, I won't spoil it for you now.
The four brothers of the title each represent a different embodiment of the Russian spirit and, by extension, the human spirit. The eldest, Mitya, is a materialist, a sensualist, or whatever other euphemism you choose to use in place of "playboy". Ivan, the next oldest, is an intellectual, an atheist, and an idealist--he is the most prosperous and practical of the brothers. Alyosha, the half-brother of Mitya and Ivan, is the kindly, spiritual, and caring Karamazov; Dostoevsky considers Alyosha to be the novel's protagonist. Smerdyakov, the suspected fourth brother, is sly, meddling, and cruel. Everyone should be able to find all of the chief traits of his or her self amongst these four brothers--they are a brilliant microcosm of all mankind.
KARAMAZOV will keep you riveted and engaged despite its notable length and density. It is at once a murder mystery, a psychological thriller, a courtroom drama, a philosophical journey, and an intellectual masterwork. From the haunting religious criticism of Ivan's prose poem "The Grand Inquistor" to the satirical brilliance of "The Devil" to the ambiguously concise, emotionally overwhelming finale, this is pure genius. It's just a shame that Dostoevsky died before he could complete the trilogy of which KARAMAZOV was meant to only be the beginning.
I can hardly begin to describe how profoundly this novel affected me. I completed it at the age of 16, just as I began my senior year of high school. In the mere six months since, I have devoted the majority of my free time to reading and studying literature--largely thanks to the influence of Dostoevsky. The influence of this novel has been felt in all facets of world culture: KARAMAZOV has earned accolades from Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Pope Benedict XVI, among millions of others--myself just one of them. I can't emphasize strongly enough how outstanding THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV is.