I’m currently reading this book for the third time. Maybe that’s all I need to say for why it makes my top five. The first time I read it, I had heard it was a classic. But it is not an easy read and I am not sure I was able to follow it well. Sure, Ivan and Alyosha’s talk about suffering and evil and God in the chapter Rebellion was heart-wrenching and challenged my faith. And The Grand Inquisitor was a fantastically depressing story-within-a-story told by Ivan. Beyond that though, it was a struggle.
Then a couple years ago I read it again. CS Lewis says the best books demand rereads and he is certainly correct. I found myself immersed in a story with characters that gripped me. By now I had read Dostoyevsky’s other words and knew what to expect. This second read moved the book into my favorites. Further, reading The Idiot, Crime and Punishment, Demons (twice!) and Notes from the Underground solidified Dostoyevsky as one of my favorite authors. His wrestling with faith and doubt echoes with my own wrestling.
Now I am reading this book a third time. This time it is part of a reading group with some other pastors. I am finding all sorts of points I had not noticed before, as well as parallels (Ivan’s story of the Grand Inquisitor followed by Zossima’s story of his life) that make the story richer. Dostoyevsky is a gem – one of the greatest novelists as well as deepest Christian thinkers ever. And this is his best work.