2011年4月5日 星期二

"Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Dostoyevsky, like Tolstoy, is one of the pillars of Russian literature. Like Tolstoy, he tends to dwell on depressing subjects.

It took me two attempts to finally finish this book. My first attempt was back in high school, when I found the book too depressing to continue. My second attempt, the success among the two, occured more than eighteen years later. It is perhaps because I am much older now that I find the patience for this long, dense book, and that I find the tolerance for Dostoyevsky's bleak style of writing.

All in all, Crime and Punishment isn't as dark as some of Tolstoy's short stories, but it lacks the uplift, the sense of predestination, that pervades a book like War and Peace. It is the story of a man who commits a horrible crime out of desperation, and the consequences this crime. It is not easy reading in any sense of the word, but if you haven't read it you should give it a try. One of its most famous passages is below.

"All at once a number of peasants came noisily out of the house, the greater part clad in red and blue shirts and sleeveless smock-frocks, tipsy, of course, and some singing, with valalaikas (Russian guitars) in their hands. 'Get in, get in, all of you,' cried out the young stout-shouldered peasant with a thick neck and face red as a carrot. 'Jump up, I am going to take the lot of you.'

"'What, with such a jade as that? You are out of your senses, Nikola,' and they began to laugh.


"'Come on. Get in!' cried Nikola, jumping into the wagon with the reins, and standing straight up in front, 'she only eats her head off, and I am sick of her. Get in, I say, and see me make her gallop.' He shook his whip, and gleefully prepared to flog the mare.


"' What, gallop that thing?' laughed the crowd.

"'Such a gallop as she has not has not had for ten years.'


"'Come on, no pity, brothers; get your whips.'
"They began to clamber into the wagon, amidst laughter and jests. Six got in, and there was room for more. Amongst them was a stout red-faced woman, whom they placed in a corner. She was clad in red fustian, with a braided head-dress, and sat cracking nuts and laughing. All the crowd laughed with relish at seeing the mare trot with such a burden. Two fellows with whips stood ready to assist Nikola. The mare drew with all her might, but, far from a trot, she barely succeeded in moving her load one inch, and simply sprawled her feet about. She snorted and winced under the blows from three whips, falling rapidly upon her. The laughter in the wagon and from the crowd redoubled, and served to arouse Nikola's anger, and his whip rained blow upon blow on the back of the unfortunate beast."

Again, not the easiest reading in the world, but there is a lot to learn in Crime and Punishment. It's not always something we want to learn, but it is there, nevertheless.