“ ‘I don’t need any…translations,’ muttered Raskolnikov.” Well, of course he does, hence this new translation of an old standby of Russian-lit survey courses.
Driven to desperation, a morally sketchy young man kills and kills again. He gets away with it—at least for a while, until a psychologically astute cop lays a subtle trap. Throw in a woman friend who hints from the sidelines that he might just feel better confessing, and you have—well, maybe not Hercule Poirot or Kurt Wallender, but at least pretty familiar ground for an episode of a PBS series or Criminal Minds. The bare bones of that story, of course, are those of Crime and Punishment, published in 1866, when Dostoyevsky was well on the road from young democrat to middle-aged reactionary: thus the importance of confession, nursed along by the naughty lady of the night with the heart of gold, and thus Dostoyevsky’s digs at liberal-inclined intellectuals (“That’s what they’re like these writers, literary men, students, loudmouths…Damn them!”) and at those who would point to crimes great and small and say that society made them do it. So Rodion Raskolnikov, who does a nasty pawnbroker, “a small, dried-up miserable old woman, about sixty years old, with piercing, malicious little eyes, a small sharp nose, and her bare head,” in with an ax, then takes it to her sister for good measure. It’s to translator Katz’s credit that he gives the murder a satisfyingly grotty edge, with blood spurting and eyes popping and the like. Much of the book reads smoothly, though too often with that veneer of translator-ese that seems to overlie Russian texts more than any other; Katz's version sometimes seems to slip into Constance Garnett–like fustiness, as when, for instance, Raskolnikov calls Svidrigaylov "a crude villain...voluptuous debaucher and scoundrel.”
It’s not quite idiomatic—for that there’s Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s version—but the translation moves easily and legibly enough through Raskolnikov’s nasty deeds, game of cat and mouse, and visionary redemption.