Coyote Mercury

words, birds and whatever else by James Brush

The Lost Book Club: The Brothers Karamazov

Back in May, my wife and I decided to read all the books referenced on Lost. I finally finished The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

I started reading this at Chuy’s during the Green Chile Festival, which is in September. It’s a long book. I also read a number of other books while reading Brothers Karamazov, which naturally slowed me down, but I think it’s good that I spent so much time with it because I really got to know the characters. Anyway, it was originally serialized in the 1870s so its original readers spent even more time with it than me.

When season 3 of Lost began back in October, I was on page 186. I summarized it then as follows:

Dostoevsky’s book is dense, rich and beautiful, full of the kind of compelling characters that keep me engaged in a story that at this point is only now beginning. The book tells the story of the relationship between an old man and his three sons, each of whom represents a different psychological/spiritual type.

The father, Fyodor Pavlovich, is a drunken self-proclaimed buffoon. He delights in making a public ass of himself. He is a lecher, scoundrel and liar who is thoroughly unlikeable, despite the fact that some of the scandalous things he says are truly funny.

Oldest brother, Dmitri is passionate and ruled by emotion. He behavior is much like that of his father, except that Dmitri has a working conscience buried deep inside. He despises his father and seems to love his brothers. Ivan, the middle brother, is a rationalist and intellectual. He is an atheist who wrestles with issues of faith. The youngest brother, Aloysha is the central character in the book. Aloysha is sweet and gentle, a deeply religious and good-hearted soul whose faith guides him in all things. There is also an illegitimate brother – Smerdyakov – who is dark and brooding, but I haven’t learned much about him yet.

Each brother has varying degrees of conflict with each other and with their father, Fyodor. I think – based on the back of the book – that one of them will kill Fyodor. I don’t know for sure, but my money is on Dmitri.

Well, it turns out I was right about Fyodor, and wrong about Dmitri even though he was convicted, it seems clear (though with enough uncertainty to make it interesting) that Semerdyakov was actually the killer.

The greatest connection between Lost and The Brothers Karamazov, however, is that both are stories of people who are lost (in the figurative sense) and both explore the line that divides faith and reason. Brothers Karamazov is at heart a philosophical novel that wrestles with the idea of faith and the consequences if living without it.

Alyosha is at all times kind, decent, humble and driven by compassion and love. Ivan rails against the church and ultimately it is his pronouncements against God that lead Smerdykov to believe that “everything is permitted,” a belief that ultimately destroys his family. Through it all, though, we see Alyosha living a life ruled by love and compassion, and it is his example that we should take away from the novel, the admonition to be our best selves, to strive for perfect human kindness.

It’s a beautiful and moving book, with characters drawn so real that it’s hard to believe I don’t actually know them.

Regarding Lost, this is all a bit dated. The book was given to Henry Gale (now Ben) while he was being held in the hatch (way back in season 2). It served the purpose of bringing up the conversation about Hemingway feeling like he could never be as great as Dostoevsky, which made Locke wonder if would always play second fiddle to Jack. Tension ensued, which as we know from watching season 3 is probably exactly what Henry/Ben wanted.

When I related it to Lost in my last post on the subject, I said this about how the characters in Brothers Karamazov resemble certain characters on Lost:

  • Dmitri and Sawyer are both passionate and ruled by their emotions especially lust and greed; both use women, and each possesses a deeply buried conscience.
  • Ivan and Jack are both rationalists, both men of science.
  • Alyosha and Locke are both men of faith, both good-hearted.

I admit, not having read the book in its entirety (yet), that there may be deeper parallels. I particularly wonder if Alyosha has a crisis of faith as Locke did when he stopped pushing the button in the hatch. I also see that Kate could as easily be the Dmitri character as Sawyer; likewise Mr. Eko resembles Alyosha in many ways, though not as closely as Locke.

I don’t see a Fyodor character yet except in that Jack, Locke (and Kate if we go that way) have major conflicts with their fathers. Sawyer’s father hasn’t really come into play except his “spiritual father” – the con man who destroyed his family – from whom he took his name and trade. Interestingly this “father” is the man that Sawyer went to Australia to kill. Kate also killed her father.

Now that I’ve finished the book and seen the first six episodes of season 3, some comparisons seem a bit clearer. I stand by the Alyosha/Lock, Ivan/Jack, and Sawyer/Dmitri comparisons, especially the last now that we’ve seen Sawyer’s deeply buried moral side. Like Dimitri, he’s a bastard who wants to be good, though his darker instincts often get the better of him.

Once again, above all else, we find a book on the island that explores the issues and themes central to the show. Quite frankly, as Lost got farther away, I stopped reading Brothers Karamazov for insight into the show and just enjoyed it for its penetrating insight into the human character.

Click here for more of my Lost book reviews.

Check out this interview with Lost’s creators transcribed on Lost…And Gone Forever.


  1. OKAY! After all of your “Lost” blogging – I’ve caved. Chris and I have borrowed seasons 1 and 2 from a friend. We’ll catch up quickly and all of this will make more sense.

  2. Make sure you DVR or TiVo season 3. You won’t be disappointed. It’s the best thing on TV. Ever.

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