Thursday, February 14, 2013

Crime and Punishment

My first tryst with Russian Literature was the novel, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

 It chronicles a day in the life of Ivan, a prisoner who is serving in a Soviet labour camp. The slim volume was quite evocative, in terms of the prose and the plot.

I moved on to Anna Karenina, the novel by Leo Tolstoy.

I could not make peace with it. Anna Karenina did not appeal to me in the way that it should have - by all accounts it is a great classic. But maybe I think I'll read it after a few days and it will make sense to me.

That is something I have observed. To an immature mind, a great book may seem ridiculous. But when read at the right time, it rises to sublime heights. The first time I read 'Gone with the wind', I hated it. The story was garbled, the characters shallow. But I read the same book three years later and then I saw it in a new light. The circumstances in America and a deeper understanding and acceptance of people allowed me to come to terms with that book.

This year, I embarked on Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

It is undoubtedly a complex novel. A murder, subsequent guilt, the complex and specious logic behind it, other complicated and fractious characters who vacillate between extremes...If I would have read this book a year ago, I would probably have thrown away after reading a few pages. When I started reading it, I struggled through the first few pages. And if I have to admit it, I would have to attribute it to the Russian names.The story picks up pace in the second part but again, peters out towards the end. It is fraught with complications and there is a curious symmetry to the plot. The plot can be described as such:

Rodia is a young ex-student in St. Petersburg. He kills a pawn-broker and her sister. He murders her to test out his hypothesis that there exists a breed of men who can transgress the laws of the society in a bid for utilitarian good. Ultimately, he recognises that he is not of the those men. He often compares his actions with that of Napoleon. Ultimately, he confesses his crime and is sentenced to labour. Of course, the book is not simple enough to be summed up in half a dozen sentences. There are enough sub-plots and symbolism to keep the head turning.

But all in all, I would advise this book only to a serious reader. Others may pass.

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