Sunday, February 10, 2019

Book Review- Crime and Punishment

Title               Crime and Punishment
Author           Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Translator     Constance Garnett
Pages              584
ISBN              978-93-8653-805-5
MRP              Rs 250
Publisher       F!ngerprint!  Classics
Rating            4/5 Stars

Exactly a month back when I started reading this intense psychological thriller by the famous Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) little did I know that this work will recast my notions about crime as well as punishment. As the name suggests, the novel revolves around the very concept of crime and the consequent punishment imparted for it. Without superfluous tracks in typical Dostoyevskian style, it questions a very basic thing- if one kills an epitome of the evil, a vile vermin to save hundreds of innocents, how can it be called a crime and who can decide the befitting punishment for the same?

The protagonist Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov is a tall and handsome 23 year old former university student who lives in a suffocating cupboard-like rented room in St. Petersberg, Russia. He publishes an article describing his theory on crime along with a hypothesis relating crime and a high fever. Months later, he shockingly finds himself compelled to brutally murder an old pawnbroker who he considers to be a den of iniquity and a venomous insect. Despite poverty, fever and dilemmas, he comes out unscathed and manages to duck everyone. From police to his intellectual best friend, Razhumihin and from his shrewd landlady to his over-analytical doctor, everyone believes him to be innocent. However, it is his own conscience that he relentlessly grapples with. One day at a cheap tavern, his path entwines with that of a bankrupt alcoholic clerk Marmeladov and later with his dignified but consumptive second wife Katrina Ivanovna (she has three children from a previous defunct marriage) and his religious and timid twenty year old daughter Sonia from his late first wife. When Sonia destroys herself in providing for her starving step-siblings, he bows at her feet, much to the shock of everyone.

The novel also has other important characters like Svidrigailov, a 50 year old pedophile all set to marry a 15 year old, Luzhin, a devious narcissist and Dounia, the erudite and charming older sister of the protagonist, fighting her own demons. Raskiolnikov, till the end stays clear and unsuspected yet it is his inner voice that constantly bothers him and he ends up taking odd decisions in order to run away from his own crumbling self. His way of perceiving things is complex yet he manages to convince the reader into agreeing with him. Twists and turns keep the reader on the edge and the ending gives a nice closure to this powerful work. This novel also throws much light on the then Russian society and culture.

Not just another run-of-the-mill fiction, ‘Crime and Punishment’ requires contemplation on the reader’s part. It takes one inside the frenzied but brilliant mind of Raskolnikov and argues upon the fundamentals such as of crime, what defines it, who can be called a criminal, what the meaning of punishment is, who actually deserves how much of it in any society, in an era and who deserves to rule the masses. This book breaks old moulds of notions and makes one reflect, that too profoundly. It undoubtedly is a timeless classic.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky
*I found this translation to be a bit confusing and messed up at many places hence it is better to get another one from the many available ones.

*The scene of Katrina Ivanovna’s depressing death later in the story, literally shook me up and made me cry.

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