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Saturday, July 16th, 2011
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Crime and Punishment: A Novel in Six Parts with Epilogue (Vintage Classics)

by Fyodor Dostoevsky and Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

The Tell-Tale Heart in St. Petersburg

A review by Doug Brown

For my classics year project, I knew I had to get some Dostoevsky in. I crossed The Idiot off the list for the shallow reason that I have the DVD of Akira Kurosawa's version. That left either Crime and Punishment or Brothers Karamazov. A used copy of Crime and Punishment showed up first, so it won. I was a little apprehensive, though, as my mom had recently read another Dostoevsky and found it very Christian, and another person had specifically mentioned Crime and Punishment as a Christian book. However, while Christianity was mentioned, it never rose to a level in the book to cause an atheist to fidget (as opposed to Uncle Tom's Cabin, for example, which I found eye-rollingly unreadable due to sermonizing).

The story is essentially a novel-length version of Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, about a man dealing with the guilt of having committed murder. In every conversation, he overanalyzes what people say, convincing himself that they know or suspect. He wavers between dread and arrogance, at one point giving an O. J. Simpson-esque "If I Did It" account of the crime, mentally daring his listeners to accuse him. Mostly, though, he stews and wallows and obsesses about discussions he's had. The "punishment" of the title is not that wrought by society, but by the mind. When the young murderer gets to the point of considering turning himself in, it's almost in relief. I realize this description makes it sound really boring and depressing, but Dostoevsky is an astute observer of human nature and skilled enough to keep up one's interest level throughout.

At 550 pages, Crime and Punishment is almost a novella compared to the works of Tolstoy. As with their translations of Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Pevear and Volokhonsky have created a lucid document devoid of the stilted phrases that plague many translations. If you're looking to read any Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, I highly recommend their versions. They've cured me of my dread of Russian novels, and that's saying something. In their hands I found Crime and Punishment surprisingly accessible and engaging.

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