A Curse on Dostoevsky, by Atiq Rahimi
Reviewed by Eileen Battersby
A Curse on Dostoevsky
Ironically, in those few sentences Rahimi sums up this disappointing work. Rassoul is an idiot who eventually decides that he must pay for killing the old woman, although her body is never found. It does not require much imagination on the part of the reader to wonder if the murder was just another dream.
It doesn’t really matter, largely because this novel does not matter. By the time Rassoul, having given himself up to what passes as the law, demands “I want a legal trial. I want to be sacrifice”, most readers will be beyond laughter.
The only likeable and remotely believable character, Parwaiz, referred to as the head of security in Kabul and a man with problems of his own, offers Rassoul some advice: “Stop thinking you are that Dostoevsky character, please. His act only made sense within the context of his society, his religion.”
But Dostoevsky should not be held solely responsible for this poorly conceived novel; Kafka and Camus could also be blamed for luring Rahimi into the realm of philosophical, surrealist fiction for which he appears, judging by this outing, spectacularly ill-equipped. It is true that The Patience Stone, in which Rahimi exposed the brutal inequality women suffer in Afghanistan is brave and truthful, if not particularly high art. He made effective use of the black patience stone or sounding board to which women could confide their secrets. The Patience Stone is a haranguing tale yet its intent is clear, despite the theatricality and obvious melodrama.
In it, Rahimi, the artist of his first two novels – both of which merit close reading – stepped back in order to permit the truth-teller the full stage in that third novel which relies on its raw fury.
A Curse On Dostoevsky is about as close to a bad nightmare as a novel can be. It is so incoherent and confused that the best way to approach it is to realise that unlike a dream, you don’t even have to wait to wake up, you can simply abandon it. Better still, avoid reading this bogus attempt at writing a “clever” book and look to Rahimi’s previous works.