Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of a landowner from our district, Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, well known in his own day (and still remembered among us) because of his dark and tragic death, which happened exactly thirteen years ago and which I shall speak of in its proper place.
The Brothers Karamazov was the last novel by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, published in serial segments in 1880. It centers around the internecine conflicts of the Karamazov family, established in the novel's opening book:
Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov - The father. A libertine and glutton, Fyodor is also said to be a shrewd businessman and financier. Overall a thoroughly horrible man, he sires three sons with two wives, driving both wives to death before their time because of how impossible it is to live in the same house as him. His murder serves as one of the major pivotal plot points. He is around fifty years old.
Dmitri - The eldest brother. After his mother's death, he was raised for some time by Fyodor's servant Grigory, but was then taken away by his maternal uncle to serve in the Russian military and then lived abroad in Europe. He grew up believing that his father owed him an inheritance, and as the novel begins he has returned home to demand it. He is twenty-eight years old.
Ivan - The middle brother, half-brother to Dmitri and older brother to Alyosha. Ivan grew up with his father's servant Grigory after his and Alyosha's mother died, and then went off to university in Moscow supported by an inheritance left to him by his maternal grandmother, writing articles and editorials for periodicals and school newspapers there. He acquires some fame after publishing an article about ecumenical politics and the emerging atheism of the modern age, in which he famously declares of the new morality, "If God does not exist, then everything is permissible." He is twenty-four years old.
Alexei - The youngest brother, half-brother to Dmitri and full brother to Ivan, and the protagonist of the novel. He is usually addressed as Alyosha. He was raised alongside Ivan for some time after their mother died, but was taken to live with a provincial marshal who had been his mother's friend before her marriage. Alyosha showed an aptitude for spiritual matters, was loved by everyone, and confided in by everyone. At the beginning of the novel, he is a novice monk at the local monastery under the tutelage of Father Zosima. He is twenty years old.
The town is also populated with a whole cavalcade of interesting supporting characters, of which a few:
Grigory - The Karamazovs' elderly manservant and Smerdyakov's warden, this man is Loyalty Incarnate and grounded in his sensibilities. He took in the titular brothers when they were all but abandoned by their father and raised each of them in their early years.
Smerdyakov - The son of Stinking Lizaveta, a mentally challenged beggar-woman who hopped the fence of the Karamazov house one night and gave birth to him, aided by Grigory and his wife. The rumor is that he's an illegitimate child of Fyodor's, which is strongly supported by the text. He works as a manservant and cook in the Karamazov house after having been trained in Moscow for a time, and is generally misanthropic and antisocial. He is around twenty years old.
Katerina - An aristocratic lady of Russia's upper crust, she met Dmitri while he was serving in the military. Due to a favor he did for her years past, she's come to the town seeking to marry him, convinced that they are in love.
Father Zosima the Elder - A high Church authority at the local monastery, Father Zosima is the very incarnation of Christianity and, indeed, morality itself. He is famed as a living saint, boundless in his wisdom, and receives petitioners from across the world. He was based in part on an actual saint that lived in Dostoevsky's time, and his life's story has some parallels to St. Augustine's biography. He is Alyosha's role model and mentor.
Ilyusha - A schoolchild whom Alyosha encounters one day being teased by the other schoolboys. When Alyosha attempts to help him, Ilyusha bites his hand. The story of Ilyusha is a subplot throughout most of the book, involving his destitute family and their run-ins with members of the Karamazov family.
Madame Khokhlakov - A lady of modest income and good standing, Madame Khokhlakov is introduced when she appears at the monastery seeking an audience with the Elder Zosima for her daughter Lise, a sick girl confined to a wheelchair. She later establishes herself as a town gossip, due to just really not knowing when to shut up. She is the source of a lot of comedy because of this.
The novel's plot is mostly conveyed through a series of monologues and dialogues. Most of the monologues are to Alyosha, who, as mentioned above, is considered trustworthy by everyone. In the dialogues, characters debate any range of topics, most of the more interesting ones centering around questions of faith, guilt, free will, suffering, and temptation. These themes are played out as the tension between Dmitri and his father gradually grows, up to the moment one night when Fyodor Karamazov is murdered and Dmitri is arrested for it. From this point on, the mindgames and schemes that each character has been playing against the other begin to unravel as events take on a life of their own.
This book provides examples of: (warning: major spoilers ahead)
Asshole Victim: Fyodor was at best an absent father, and at worst straight out abusive. Had he finished writing his will, he'd have left nothing to any of his children. And that's not even mentioning his rape of Lizaveta.
The Chessmaster: Smerdyakov. From convincing Ivan out of town with Reverse Psychology, to feigning an epileptic attack, to lying to Dmitri about the envelope, and killing himself so that he couldn't be proven guilty, Smerdyakov all but guarantees Dmitri's conviction.
On the surface, yes, but actually a subversion, as while Ivan states that with God dead, anything is permissible in theory, his actual case for atheism (as laid out in Rebellion) is quite nuanced and distinct from the trope.
Left Hanging: The thematic conflicts are resolved, but there are several plot threads which are ongoing or unresolved as the novel ends, most likely because Dostoevsky intended this as the first arc of a much longer story that he never lived to finish (see What Could Have Been below).
Literary Agent Hypothesis: The novel is set up as though it is a recounting of actual historical events (with even an introduction from its fictitious author presenting it as a biography), and the narrator himself expresses himself in such a way that he cannot help but become a character in the novel, even though he does not directly affect any of the action.
Mistaken Confession: Poor Dmitri rants for two entire chapters to the police about what he did earlier that evening when his father was murdered, and the police only see mounting evidence. Any lawyers reading the book probably start facepalming a lot around those chapters.
Averted in real life, however. Nietzsche was influenced by Dostoevsky and nihilism was a discrete movement among the intelligentsia. Ivan may count as a subversion or even aversion depending on how you read the text (death of the author vs. Dostoevsky's intentions, for one).
Take That Kiss: Two of the rare examples where the giver is generally considered morally above the receiver: Christ to the Great Inquisitor, and Alyosha to Ivan (who identifies it as plagiarism, but is nevertheless gratified).
It's a subversion: the devil laughs his ass off when Ivan tries to do that during his nightmare/vision. And Smerdyakov's suicide kind of ruins Ivan's plan.
The Unpronounceable: If you aren't a Russian speaker, many of the names can be this. ex: Iljúsjetjka Snegirjóv, Lizaveta Smerdjasjtjaja.
The difficulty of pronunciation can vary with the way the names (and especially the Russian letters «щ» and «ш» in them) were transliterated. Ilyushechka is a lot easier to pronounce than Iljúsjetjka , especially if you know which syllable is stressed (Pevear and Volokhonsky put an index at the beginning to help readers pronounce Russian names.