Atiq Rahimi translated from the French by Polly Mclean

A Curse On Dostoevsky

Publication Date: Mar 04, 2014

272 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $14.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25


List Price US $14.95
ISBN: 9781590515488

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.

Excerpt from A Curse On Dostoevsky

The moment Rassoul lifts the axe to bring it down on the old woman’s head, he thinks of Crime and Punishment. He is thunderstruck. His arms shake; his legs tremble. And the axe slips from his hands. It splits open the old woman’s head, and sinks into her skull. She collapses without a sound on the red and black rug. Her apple-blossom patterned headscarf floats in the air before landing on her fat, flabby body. She convulses. Another breath, perhaps two. Her staring eyes fix on Rassoul standing in the middle of the room, not breathing, whiter than a corpse. His patou falls from his bony shoulders. His terrified
gaze is lost in the pool of blood, blood that streams from the old woman’s skull, merges with the red of the rug obscuring its black pattern, then trickles toward the woman’s fleshy hand, which still grips a wad of notes. The money will be bloodstained.

Move, Rassoul, move!

Total inertia.


What’s the matter with him? What is he thinking about? Crime and Punishment. That’s right—Raskolnikov, and what became of him.

But didn’t he think of that before, when he was planning the crime?

Apparently not.

Or perhaps it was that story, buried deep within, which incited him to murder.

Or perhaps…Or perhaps…what? Is this really the time to consider it? Now that he’s killed the old woman, he must take her money and jewels, and run.


He doesn’t move. He just stands there. Rooted to the spot, like a tree. A dead tree, planted in the
flagstones of the house. Still staring at the trickle of blood that has almost reached the woman’s hand.

“A darkly comic meditation on life in a lawless land…In restrained prose, Rahimi explores both the personal and the political; it’s both in dialogue with a classic and is daringly outspoken.” —Publishers Weekly

“In a rare imaginative feat, Rahimi renews many of Dostoevsky’s original psychological insights and opens piercing new ones.  Unforgettable.” —Booklist (Starred) Review

“Rahimi does a masterful job both in echoing Dostoevsky and in updating the moral complexities his protagonist both creates and faces.” —Kirkus

Rahimi turns his attention to Crime and Punishment and juxtaposes literature against the Muslim world in Kabul, the themes of civil war, chaos, sin, guilt and redemption for Afghani women again being the theme. ‘Crime without punishment?’” —Electric Literature

“Atiq Rahimi brilliantly re-imagines Crime and Punishment and, in a daring feat of creative panache, transplants Dostoevsky’s classic morality tale to modern-day Afghanistan. This is easily Rahimi’s most imaginative and complex work yet, and should cement his reputation as a writer of great and unique vision.” —Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns

“Atiq Rahimi, like the great story tellers of Afghanistan, is a master of using a small moment to tell the sweeping story of the pain and loss of war.  In A Curse on Dostoevsky he yet again imprints images in the memory, as he captures both the unspeakable absurdity of the Afghan civil war and the ingenious ways Afghans have found to move beyond it.” —Qais Akbar Omar, author of A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story

A Curse on Dostoevsky is a dark window into a troubled land, and the imprints that land leaves on an individual soul. For that point alone, it is worth reading.” –The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Here, Atiq Rahimi sings an incandescent, raging story, which dissects, in a highly sensitive way, the chaos of his homeland and the contradictions of his people.” —L’Express

“In the light of the Russian writer, [Rahimi] describes his country so that we may understand it like we never have before. His latest novel isn’t only breathless, beautiful, and strong, it is indispensable…He dared—and succeeded.” —Le Point

  1. How is “crime and punishment” different in Afghanistan than in Russia? Rassoul asks “is there a crime more serious than the killing of another human being?” (p. 194). Does the novel answer his question? How?
  2. How did you personally react to Rassoul’s crime? Are you affected differently by the murder because it’s set in Rahimi’s Afghanistan, where death feels commonplace? If you have read Crime and Punishment, how did your reactions vary between the two novels?
  3. Rassoul looks to Sophia to absolve him from his crime (p. 103). Does she? What role does Sophia play in Rassoul’s journey? How does she shape or challenge our understanding of Afghani women?
  4. Compare Rassoul’s final dream of passing into but not through the prison walls with the dreams Rassoul has throughout the novel.  What role do dreams play in A Curse on Dostoevsky?
  5. Why do you think Rassoul goes silent? When he is unable to speak, Rassoul writes his replies; when he is unable to confess, he writes about killing Nana Alia. Discuss the changing political, personal, and artistic values the act of writing holds in Curse on Dostoevsky.
  6. On pages 137-139, Rassoul considers committing suicide. Why doesn’t he? Rassoul wonders if he even has “the freedom to commit suicide” and then if “God exist[s], as Dostoevsky said, to prevent man from committing suicide” (p. 139). How is suicide different in Afghani culture than it is in Western societies?
  7. At the moment Rassoul kills Nana Alia, he sees a woman in a “sky-blue chador.”  Why do you think this woman later haunts Rassoul’s dreams? What does she come to represent for Rassoul?
  8. Throughout A Curse on Dostoevsky, Rassoul is unable to speak and repeatedly experiences the sensation of being shackled or chained.  Discuss why Rassoul feels imprisoned long before he is arrested and jailed. Is there a way for Rassoul to be a free man again? What would freedom mean for Rassoul?
  9. Rassoul believes confessing his crime will mean something. Why? What role does confession ultimately play for Rassoul? How does confession in a Muslim culture differ from confession in a Christian culture?