Book Review: Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My Rating –Put it on the List

Level – Tough, dense, fairly long

Rodion (Rody) Románovich Raskolnikov is a poor college student in St. Petersburg  who decides to murder an old pawnbroker with an ax so that he can rob her. Things go awry when someone else is there and he has to kill them both. Though he believes he had the right to kill her, comparing himself to Napoleon, claiming that murder is alright if it serves a higher purpose, he becomes obsessed with his actions.  He goes into a near psychotic state, becoming not entirely sure of what is real and what isn’t.

His friend Razumikhin tries to help him, giving him work to do and visiting him, as well as calling on a doctor to see him. Meanwhile, me is suspected and interviewed about the murder. Additionally, his mother and sister are moving to the area for his sister to marry a wealthy man, all for him. The man will be able to help with pay for school as well as help him get set up with a job. During one of his frantic bouts, he sees a man get run over in the street and follows the crowd as the bring the body home, offering to pay for the funeral. He ends up meeting the man’s daughter, whom he falls in love with.

My Thoughts
Two things made this hard to read for me. For one, as always, I was using the Dover Thrift edition, which might not always be the best translation. Secondly, the Russian naming convention of calling them by first and last name but then alternately calling them by just one name, but a different one from the other two. It took me awhile to figure out Razumikhin and Dmitry Prokofyich Vrazumikhin was just one person.

I have the Dover Thrift (of course) which is the Constance Garnett translation. From what I’ve read, the best is Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation, though it seem a bit harder to find. Many others enjoy this version, newly released Crime and Punishment: (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) (this is also the version you’ll see if you follow Rodion on Twitter)

(Edit – I came across the naming custom in an article about War & Peace, which is had seen it prior to reading. You can read the whole article, but below are the main highlights)

The common rules are the further:

  • the full three-name form (for instance, Иван Иванович Петров, Ivan Ivanovich Petrov) is used in official documents only. Everyone in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus is supposed to have three names.
  • the form “first name + patronymic” (for instance, Иван Иванович, Ivan Ivanovich):
    • is the feature of official communication (for instance, students in schools and universities call their teachers in the form of “first name + patronymic” only);
    • may convey the speaker’s respect for the recipient. Historically patronymic was the feature of the royal dynasty only (Рюриковичи, Ruerikovichi)
  • the surname only (Петров, Petrov) is used in formal communications, but much more rare. One instance where it is used commonly is by school teachers towards their students. There’s some trend in informal Russian to call a recipient with his/her surname expressing the irony as well.
  • for informal communication two names are usually omitted and only the first name is used (for instance, Иван, Ivan). In the more informal registers, a diminutive(of which several can be formed from one name) is often used. In rural areas the patronymic name only (for instance, Петрович, Petrovich, Ивановна, Ivanovna) is used by aged people for informal communication between themselves, sometimes young people use such form expressing the irony.

The book started off slow, so if you are willing to power through the first 45 pages and cruise on past 70 pages, you’ll be good to go. Probably he most interesting and entertaining sections are his conversations with inspector Porfiry Petrovich. The whole book has many story lines, however almost all revolve around Rodion, so it is not too hard to follow. Towards the end of the book, you can see what is happening, but are still left wondering somewhat, about how everything will tie back together. It is a masterfully written story.

One of the most compelling parts of the book is Rodion’s inner turmoil. In this aspect, the story of his mind is written as almost a psychological thriller. Dostoyevsky also plums the depths of the broken and guilt ridden mind. Rodion is near manic in his despair and belief in himself. It is almost disturbing to read.

Anyone looking to break into Russian Literature, this is definitely a good place to start and a book to put on your list. At around 500 pages it is the shortest of the Russian heavy weights. I certainly plan to continue you on with more, though I’m torn between sticking with Dostoyevsky or moving on to Tolstoy. Either way, check back for a review in the future.