Book Review: “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
How did I get this book?
The short answer? I spotted it on a table of 50% off books at Barnes & Noble. I was already reading a paperback version that I had picked up a couple of years ago out of the donated books pile at the Upper Room at Calvary in Ottawa. But, this was a beautiful, new, hard bound copy.
Why did I pick it up? Well, years ago, I read “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy and really enjoyed it. Someone, I can’t remember at the time, suggested that I should read “Crime and Punishment” next. They said that Tolstoy died with a Dostoyevsky book on his nightstand. I needed a break from big novels though. I prefer non-fiction.
Then, Joanna and Zac told me they were reading “The Brothers Karamazov” and enjoying it. They encouraged me to read it too. So, I did. That was my first Dostoyevsky novel. I both liked and hated it. Mostly liked.
Then, last year, Zac’s dad said that “Crime and Punishment” was even better. It was his favourite. Recently I heard Jordan Peterson say that he thought “Crime and Punishment” might be the best novel ever written. Last month, I finally worked my way down the stack and decided it was the most interesting one I had left. I plunged in.
What is the book about?
Redemption. It’s how a headstrong and therefore hopeless criminal can find life, light and hope.
It’s set in the summer of 1865 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
It also gives a picture to life and worldview and mindset of the people in that place and time.
What did I think?
I prefer “The Brothers Karamazov.”
No one I know writes the dark thoughts and broodings of his characters like Dostoyevsky. If his intention is to cause alarm, he succeeded. I’m alarmed that people think the way his characters think. Almost no one is likeable. It’s messy and distressing all throughout.
All this darkness does not mean that it’s not brilliant. The high point for me, was the scene were the prostitute and the murderer are reading and discussing John 11. That was exquisite. To show you how lost I was in the misery of the characters, I wouldn’t have noticed the symbolism of a murderer and a prostitute discussing the claim of Jesus to be “the ressurrection and the life” without the author explicitly stating it. The prostitute is witnessing to the murderer.
Mr. Dostoyevsky’s insights into both Scripture and human nature are a wonder to behold. He seems to see far further into each than anyone I’ve encountered so far.
Zac told me that Dostoyevsky wrote in between bouts of alcohol and gambling when he needed money. The book was a compilation of sections that were released intermittently. It would be like an OG blog, or podcast. When they were released it was an enormous social event.
I think people should read this when they are ready for a novel this size. There is a commitment to see the story through. It’s profound, in that it’s the prostitute with her tenacious grip on faith that becomes the agent of change. I think it also serves as a powerful warning to our society, as we in America are mimicking a lot of the same journey that Russian culture made in the late 1800’s. May God have mercy on us.
Have you read it? What did you think?