Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Raskolnikov in Kabul

Remember Anna Russell’s Iphigenia in Brooklyn?  Probably not.  You need to be of a certain age to remember Russell’s madcap parodies of opera during the 50s and 60s. She toured the United States with her enormously successful one-woman show, poking the hell out of opera, especially the plot absurdities of the genre.  So what, you ask, is the connection between Russell and Atiq Rahimi’s A Curse on DostoevskyNot comedy but absurdity.  Rahimi’s tale of a young murderer, named Rassoul, explores the fascinating cultural variants on Dostoevsky’s dark tale of murder and its affect on the murderer, especially when the incident is anything but tidy: no body, the status of women, Sharia law and, above all, the influence on the psyche.  It’s a daring move on Rahimi’s part, no easy feat to pull off.

So we begin, once again, with the murder of an old woman, brought down by an axe.  “The moment Rassoul lifts the axe to bring it down on the old woman’s head, the thought of Crime and Punishment flashes into his mind.” That’s the opening sentence, and we later learn that Rassoul was a student in Russia, during the Cold War, and it was then that he read Dostoevsky.  There’s the added irony that the Russians have long since given up their attempt to control Afghanistan, left in defeat, but Rassoul is one of the vestiges of their influence.  And the old woman, Nana Alia, she’s a pawnbroker and, as we will soon discover, someone who corrupts young women, luring them into prostitution.  Thus, there are social issues here in conflict with Islam, which will play a major part in the unfolding of Rahimi’s novel.

Like Raskolnikov, Rassoul is also driven by poverty, and the woman he loves, Sophia, has begun working for Nana Alia.  Rassoul is concerned about his family’s poverty as well as Sophia’s, but in the aftermath of the murder he absconds without taking any of the old woman’s money or jewelry.  Thus, he plans to return to the scene of the crime and extract what is valuable before the body is discovered, but he fails in that attempt because of the arrival of someone else.  So he departs again and waits, but surprisingly there are no reports of the woman being murdered, although she appears to have disappeared.  If there is no body, perhaps there can be no charges and, if there are no charges, the murder cannot be pinned on him.  However, with no body, no one is looking for him.

That doesn’t mean that there is no guilt or suffering, and here again there are major parallels with Dostoevsky’s story.  Rassoul loses his voice for no apparent reason other than guilt.  He writes in his notebook, “Today I killed Nana Alia,” adding “I killed her for you, Sophia.” He fears that is sister, Donia, is going to marry a man she doesn’t love in order that she can move her family out of poverty.  All of these details are set to the background of Kabul, with a new war (with the Americans), with gun shots and rockets going off all the time, and too many citizens attempting to escape reality by smoking hash. There’s even the question of suicide, as in Dostoevsky, but thrown into its cultural/historical context: “First, in order to commit suicide you have to believe in life, in the value of life.  Death has to be worthy of life.  Here, in this country, these days, life has no value at all, and therefore neither does suicide.”

Eventually, the tension, the suffering for Rassoul is unbearable.  He goes to the police and informs them, “I’ve come to hand myself over to the law.”  This is the response he receives: “Oh, sorry, there’s no one to receive you.”  Then, during a second attempt, the response from the police is “Really, you killed that madam to wipe a cockroach off the face of the earth,” implying that he murder is justified and the only victim is Rassoul himself.  “Oh, young man, I’ve seen crimes far more absurd than yours.  And I have also seen that killing a madam doesn’t eradicate evil from the world.  Especially these days…in this country killing is the most insignificant act there is.” The judge tells Rassoul that in Afghanistan, being in prison or outside makes little difference.  Furthermore, if Rassoul hadn’t killed Nana Alia, someone else would have.

There are other reversals in these responses to Rassoul’s confession of the murder, several of them becoming even more absurd.  One judge sees his crime as Communism; after all, he was a student in Russia.  Another implies that the murder of a woman in Afghanistan hardly matters; it is men who control the society and all human relationships, women being little more than disposable objects.  These harsh indictments of patriarchy have earned Rahimi the respect of his fellow intellectuals and the esteem for A Curse on Dostoevsky as his major work.  The translation by Polly McLean is a delight.

Atiq Rahimi: A Curse on Dostoevsky

Trans. by Polly McLean

Other Press, 250 pp., $14.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail