The Grand Inquisitor: A Graphic Novel Based on the Story from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s the Brothers Karamazov

Reviewed by:

Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


The Grand Inquisitor: A Graphic Novel Based on the Story from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s the Brothers Karamazov


Adapted by Natalia Osipova, art by Elena Avinova, introduction by Gary Saul Morson


Plough Publishing House

Publication Date:

June 23, 2020




36 pages


The Brothers Karamazov is well-remembered for many reasons, one being its challenging spiritual content. The most famous example is a chapter where the cynical Ivan Karamazov argues with his devout younger brother Alyosha about God’s goodness, telling a story he has written about a member of the Inquisition meeting Christ. The chapter is often published separately from the larger book, and discussed as an insightful look at the problem of evil. Natalia Osipova and Elena Avinova adapt this story into graphic novel format, developing new details without changing its heart.

Any time that a classic text is adapted, there are questions about what gets changed. Arguably, any adaptor in a different setting or period from the original writer can’t avoid doing things differently, bringing a new interpretation. If there are moral concerns about the work, the adaptor may deliberately lean in a certain direction. When Peter Kuper adapted Heart of Darkness, he dealt with the book’s awkward racial history by deliberately drawing African characters in a humanizing style, eschewing stock imagery.

In this case, Natalia Osipova and Elena Avinova make changes that accent the religious debate within the story, and its ongoing relevance. The characters wear modern clothing, and Alyosha’s T-shirt says “God is Right,” the sort of cheesy slogan that conservative American Christians often wear on clothing. The brothers talk in an upscale café, a bartender (and an onlooker whose T-shirt shows a crown of thorns) listens in. The text’s references haven’t been updated to place the story outside Russia, but the dialogue feels oddly relevant. Americans currently live in a polarized culture, where differences often seem insurmountable… like the religious debate that these brothers are having. The bartender and Ivan recall stories of soldiers and police killing innocents… something many Americans see every day in TV headlines.

Another artistic addition gives this book a nice extra layer. In his introduction, Gary Saul Morson highlights how the onlooker listening to the brothers does not appear in the original story. Not only that, but Avinova draws this onlooker (with his thorn crown shirt) to resemble Christ in the later section. “It is,” Morson writes, “as if Jesus is always with us in moments of deep spiritual dialogue, as people of Christian faith know he is.” The graphic novel’s ending matches the original story, with no attempt to make it more upbeat. However, adding Christ to the scene reminds readers that “secular versus Christian” debates never happen in a vacuum. God is omnipresent, watching the debates play out, and there with us.

A clever, well-crafted adaptation of a seminal work.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

5 stars

Suggested Audience:

Readers seeking an introduction or new exploration of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s work, particularly The Brothers Karamazov and its Grand Inquisitor section. Graphic novel fans seeking complex works with spiritual themes will also enjoy the book.

Christian Impact:

The Grand Inquisitor has often been cited as a great religious dialogue, a discussion of true faith versus legalism and the problem of evil. Unlike many contemporary Christian stories, it doesn’t have with a quaint ending where the secular character admits defeat. However, many would argue that the story makes it clear that Dostoyevsky’s loyalties lie with the Christian. The illustrations set the story in an apparently contemporary scene, showing how its ideas still apply.

Note: Readers who enjoy this graphic novel may enjoy Plough Publishing’s other graphic novels, including biographies of Martin Luther and the White Rose group. To read ECLA’s review of those books, go to:

The Grand Inquisitor: A Graphic Novel Based on the Story from Fyodor Dostoyevsky's the Brothers Karamazov

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