Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This is my second book of Dostoevsky and I decided to read it  after reading  ‘The House of the Dead’, which I have already reviewed in this blog. Incidentally I feel there is some connection between these two books, in  the sense that at the end of C&P Raskolnikov –the protagonist of the novel– goes to prison in Siberia in a place that feels almost identical to the prison camp described in the The House of Dead.

Since C&P  is an extremely well-known and acclaimed  book, I am not going to attempt to write a full review. There are literally thousands of very good reviews out there. Suffice to say that I think this is a really good novel and surprisingly  is very readable considering that it was written about 160 years ago. 

Perhaps one of the reasons why this book is so atemporal is that it deals with human emotions such as guilt, humiliation, shame, pride and compassion for other fellow human beings. This book exposes the many ways our  mind reacts to extreme psychological conditions and this is why I believe C&P still appeals to  readers from different centuries.

The book is about poor student Raskolnikov  who lives under very precarious conditions, renting a minuscule room in an old  apartment building and often going days without food  and money. Deep in debt, he comes with the idea of killing a pawnbroker, a despicable old lady. He rationalizes that since  nobody likes the  woman, by killing her he would liberate several  other people from their respective  debts with her. The killing of the lady would also benefit  Raskolnikov’s sister who is about to succumb into a loveless arranged marriage to an old, mean and nasty guy in exchange for economic support for her and her family. After long  thinking Raskolnikov decides that killing the pawnbroker is the best course of action for everyone. The world is going to be a better place without her. Thus he goes ahead  and kills the pawnbroker violently, hacking her with an axe. 

The crime is a success: nobody sees him killing the woman and the police fail to find  the murderer.  However  Raskolnikov cannot cope psychologically with his crime  and then his life turns into a living hell as he downspirals into the deepest guiltiness.

A personal comment is in order. Notice that in the last paragraph I said ‘guiltiness’ and not ‘guilt’. I don’t believe Raskolnikov felt guilt or remorse for his crime. I say that because throughout the book  the protagonist indicates that he believes he actually has the right to kill the pawnbroker. He often thinks of himself as an exceptional individual, just like Napoleon who was responsible for the deaths of an uncountable  number of persons at the beginning of the XIX century. According to Raskolnikov’s reasoning, since Napoleon had the highest ideals, therefore Napoleon also had  the right to terminate the lives of other people at will. Similarly Raskolnikov argues that he is an exceptional individual who is making the world a better place by getting rid of the nasty woman.  Then if not guilt, what is it that makes Raskolnikov to confess his crime? He simply cannot keep the secret to himself.

A final remark that I want to make here concerns to the many available translations. My favorite english translation is the one by Oliver Ready (2014). This is perhaps the newest translation edited by Penguin books, UK and I like it very much. C&P is a masterpiece and a good translation makes it even better. In addition to the english translation, I also came across the spanish translation by Fernando Otero (2015) of Alba Editorial, Barcelona. Reading this edition of Dostoevsky in spanish feels so fresh and engaging. I do recommend it to everyone.

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