In war-torn Kabul, an admirer of Dostoevsky imitates Raskolnikov’s murder of Alyona Ivanovna in Crime and Punishment—and suffers similar moral torment and self-loathing.
At the beginning of Rahimi’s narrative, Rassoul, the “new” Raskolnikov, kills Nana Alia. But before he can steal her money, he is scared off by the sound of a voice. As he runs away, he injures his ankle and curses Dostoevsky for having his “perfect crime” hindered by this unforeseen event. Like Raskolnikov, Rassoul is highly intelligent, self-reflective and morally conflicted. He also has a woman he’s in love with—Sophia—who might in fact have been the voice he heard the night he murdered Nana Alia. (In Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov is morally “rescued” by Sonia, whose real name is Sofia.) Rassoul makes the difficult decision to return to the scene of the crime, something he knows he should not do. Also, as a result of his traumatic experience, he loses his voice and is forced to communicate by writing down notes. And while Rahimi frames Rassoul’s experiences through a third-person recounting, Rassoul also keeps a journal of his activities and thoughts, and Rahimi offers generous glimpses into Rassoul’s mind with this first-person account. The parallels to Dostoevsky’s novel are striking, as, like Raskolnikov, Rassoul has issues with his landlord; he first confesses his crime to Sophia; and he has a relatively clueless mother. One irony is that, in Kabul, violence is so pervasive that people are being killed almost indiscriminately, so one more “murder” shouldn’t make a difference, right? But it does.
Rahimi does a masterful job both in echoing Dostoevsky and in updating the moral complexities his protagonist both creates and faces.