A Curse on Dostoevsky.pdf

A Curse on Dostoevsky.pdf


“Atiq Rahimi brilliantly re-imagines Crime and Punishment and, in a daring feat of creative panache, transplants Dostoevsky’s classic morality tale to modern-day Afghanistan. This is easily Rahimi’s most imaginative and complex work yet, and should cement his reputation as a writer of great and unique vision.” —Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

“Here, Atiq Rahimi sings an incandescent, raging story, which dissects, in a highly sensitive way, the chaos of his homeland and the contradictions of his people.” —L’Express
“In the light of the Russian writer, [Rahimi] describes his country so that we may understand it like we never have before. His latest novel isn’t only breathless, beautiful, and strong, it is indispensable…He dared—and succeeded.” —Le Point

Atiq Rahimi was born in Afghanistan in 1962 and fled to France in 1984, where he has become an award-winning author (2008 Prix Goncourt) and filmmaker (2004 Prix un certain regard, Cannes). The film adaptation of his novel The Patience Stone, which he co-wrote and directed, was selected as the Afghan entry for the 2012 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. In recent years, he has returned to Afghanistan many times to set up a writers’ house in Kabul and offer support and training to young writers and filmmakers. He lives in Paris.
Polly McLean is a freelance translator from Oxford, England. Winner of the 2009 Scott Moncrieff Prize, she has translated titles by Catherine Deneuve and Sylvia Kristel, as well as the award-winning Secret by Philippe Grimbert.

The moment Rassoul lifts the axe to bring it down on the old woman’s head, he thinks of Crime and Punishment. He is thunderstruck. His arms shake; his legs tremble. And the axe slips from his hands. It splits open the old woman’s head, and sinks into her skull. She collapses without a sound on the red and black rug. Her apple-blossom patterned headscarf floats in the air before landing on her fat, flabby body. She convulses. Another breath, perhaps two. Her staring eyes fix on Rassoul standing in the middle of the room, not breathing, whiter than a corpse. His patou falls from his bony shoulders. His terrified gaze is lost in the pool of blood, blood that streams from the old woman’s skull, merges with the red of the rug obscuring its black pattern, then trickles toward the woman’s fleshy hand, which still grips a wad of notes. The money will be bloodstained.

Move, Rassoul, move!

Total inertia.


What’s the matter with him? What is he thinking about? Crime and Punishment. That’s right—Raskolnikov, and what became of him.

But didn’t he think of that before, when he was planning the crime?

Apparently not.

Or perhaps it was that story, buried deep within, which incited him to murder.

Or perhaps…Or perhaps…what? Is this really the time to consider it? Now that he’s killed the old woman, he must take her money and jewels, and run.


He doesn’t move. He just stands there. Rooted to the spot, like a tree. A dead tree, planted in the flagstones of the house. Still staring at the trickle of blood that has almost reached the woman’s hand.

Reading Dostoevsky in Afghanistan becomes “crime without punishment”

Rassoul remembers reading Crime and Punishment as a student of Russian literature in Leningrad, so when, with axe in hand, he kills the wealthy old lady who prostitutes his beloved Sophia, he thinks twice before taking her money or killing the woman whose voice he hears from another room. He wishes only to expiate his crime and be rightfully punished. Out of principle, he gives himself up to the police. But his country, after years of civil war, has fallen into chaos. In Kabul there is only violence, absurdity, and deafness, and Rassoul’s desperate attempt to be heard turns into a farce.

This is a novel that not only flirts with literature but also ponders the roles of sin, guilt, and redemption in the Muslim world. At once a nostalgic ode to the magic of Persian tales and a satire on the dire reality of now, A Curse on Dostoevsky also portrays the resilience and wit of Afghani women, an aspect of his culture that Rahimi never forgets.


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