Book Review: Crime and Punishment


When I was suggested to read the book ‘Crime and Punishment’, I was bit hesitant to do so, because of its stale title. But it only took a reading of few pages to shed my hesitation. I need just one reason to love a book and Crime and Punishment has offered me quite a few.   

Written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, this book is definitely among one of the more impactful novels I have read. The book presents a deep insight on the negative shade of the human character and on the moral struggle between their right side and the wrong side.

The Theme:  “What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?” 

“The man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment.” 

The two quotes from the book summarizes the theme.  The primary theme of the book is crime, suffering and redemption but the author has unfolded the theme in a thought provoking manner with the aid of eloquent arguments.  As far as the book is concerned, the narration and the arguments – and not the story -makes it a classic.

Raskolnikov, an intelligent destitute youth, who believes in the philosophy that it is right to do wrong against some people for the greater good, dreams himself equivalent to Napoleon and commits a murder, what follows next is his struggle with his self.  The moral struggle of Raskolnikov is so beautifully depicted that it arouses the feelings of empathy, pity, hatred, all at once towards him.

Rating 4/5

The Characters and the Scope:  The book is filthy rich in terms of characters.  Besides the protagonist there are other powerful characters, each very impressionable. There is a beautiful and chaste sister of Raskolnikov who believes in sacrificing self for the well being of others. There is Pyotr Luzhin, a pervert wealthy man who wants to marry a poor girl so that she remains indebted to him. There is a prostitute, Sonya in whom Raskolnikov finds some salvage for his crime. There is a lecher Svidrigailov with his interesting theory on flattery and lechery.  There is Razumikhin who symbolises a true friend and then there is an intelligent investigator who lays a moral trap in which Raskolnikov finds himself entangled.

Dostoyevsky has penned each character with a ferocious intensity.  I especially liked the description of the traits of Pyotr Luzhin as and when he entered the story.  One can almost hear the noise of the author grinding his teeth in anger while penning this character.

The only negative about the characters is their mouth filling multi -syllable names.

Rating 5/5

The Flow of the Plot:  The plot is set up in the semi lunatic town of St. Petersburg, the town with an air of warm gloominess.  The author has at many places used the description of the town and its weather to set the shade of the darkness in the plot. The plot flows quite smoothly and characters come, play their part, create an impact and vanish without making their absence conspicuous.

Rating 4/5

The Language: The book is originally written in Russian and there are many translations available but I suggest the translation by David McDuff.  I had chance of reading few pages by another translator and I realised how important a role the translator plays.

The Language used is rich and lucid. At places the author/translator has used legal phrases and native words all of which are explained in the notes section of the book.  The language used while describing the characters is vivid.  Dialogues between the characters are always meaningful and as a reader I was able to feel the tension whenever Raskolnikov talked to any other character.

Rating 4/5

Overall, Crime and Punishment is a rich book – in terms of philosophy, characters, language and arguments.  I suggest that it should be part one’s library.

Here are some  more quotes:

“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” 

“To go wrong in one’s own way is better then to go right in someone else’s.” 

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars, 
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!” 

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart. The really great men must, I think, have great sadness on earth.

“There is nothing in the world more difficult than candor, and nothing easier than flattery. If there is a hundredth of a fraction of a false note to candor, it immediately produces dissonance, and as a result, exposure. But in flattery, even if everything is false down to the last note, it is still pleasant, and people will listen not without pleasure; with coarse pleasure, perhaps, but pleasure nevertheless. ”

“In my opinion, if, as the result of certain combinations, Kepler‘s or Newton‘s discoveries could become known to people in no other way than by sacrificing the lives of one, or ten, or a hundred or more people who were hindering the discovery, or standing as an obstacle in its path, then Newton would have the right, and it would even be his duty… to remove those ten or a hundred people, in order to make his discoveries known to mankind. It by no means follows from this, incidentally, that Newton should have the right to kill anyone he pleases, whomever happens along, or to steal from the market every day.”

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