A Curse on Dostoevsky by Atiq Rahimi, translated from the French by Polly McLean
Published by Vintage, 2013
Rassoul’s world consists of little more than a squalid rented room – strewn with books by Dostoevsky, relics from his days as a student of Russian Literature at Leningrad – and his beloved fiancée Sophia, for whom he would do anything.
So when he finds himself committing a murder, axe in hand, as if re-enacting the opening of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, his identification with the novel’s anti-hero is complete: Rassoul is Raskolnikov, transplanted to late twentieth-century Kabul. Amid the war-torn streets, Rassoul searches for the meaning of his crime. Instead he is pulled into a feverish plot thick with murder, guilt, morality and Sharia law, where the lines between fact and fiction, dream and reality, become dangerously blurred.
Blackly comic, with flashes of poetry as well as brilliant irony, Atiq Rahimi’s latest novel is an ingenious recasting of Dostoevsky’s masterpiece and a transgressive satire with a frightening resonance all its own.
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Atiq Rahimi was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1962. His mother was a teacher, and his father was a provincial governor under the monarchy of Zahir Shah. After the coup of 1973, however, the king was overthrown and Afghanistan was declared a republic. Rahimi’s family went into exile, and after studying at the Franco-Afghan lycée, he joined his father in Bombay. In 1979, he returned to Afghanistan to read literature at the University of Kabul, and worked as a cinema critic.
In 1984, he relocated to Pakistan for a brief period, before seeking political asylum in France. He completed his PhD in audio-visual communications at the Sorbonne, and began writing Earth and Ashes in 1996. After 18 years in exile, Atiq Rahimi returned in February 2002 to Afghanistan and helped establish an Afghan writers’ centre in Kabul, with the assistance of the French government.
Rahimi is the recipient of a number of prestigious literary and film awards. In 2004, he won the Prix du Regard vers l’Avenir at the Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Dhow award for Best Feature Film at the Zanzibar International Film Festival for his film version of Earth and Ashes. In 2008, he was awarded the Prix Goncourt for Stone of Patience – France’s highest literary honour.
Polly McLean is a freelance translator born in South Africa, who grew up in Paris and is now based in Oxford. Previous translations include titles by Catherine Deneuve and Sylvia Kristel (star of the Emmanuelle films) as well as the award-winning Secret by Philippe Grimbert. She is also a founding Director of The Funding Network, established in 2008.