A Curse on Dostoevsky

by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Polly Mclean

Available from The Other Press

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.

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 to offer support and training to young writers and filmmakers. He lives in Paris.