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5 Books like Crime & Punishment: A Cold & Harsh Reality

Kedar Prasana itcherIf you have actually managed to read through the travails of Raskolnikov, you deserve to pat yourself on the back, for the book is not an easy pill to swallow. Going further, if you need more challenges, you can give these books like ‘Crime and Punishment’ a try: ‘Dead Souls’, ‘Oblomov’, ‘Zorba the Greek’, ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and ‘The Trial’. ~ Kedar Prasana

Who Really Watches the Watcher?

Why am I to be pitied, you say? Yes! There’s nothing to pity me for! I ought to be crucified, crucified on a cross, not pitied!

‘Crime and Punishment’ is, more than a story, a study. It is a cold hearted, at times bleak, look at the nature of crimes that people are forced to commit and how they shape the future of society. It is the story of an unsuspecting, young and broke student in Moscow who commits a heinous crime for no apparent reason, and how the legal framework treats his case.

If you read this one at a young age, it will forever mould your thoughts. There’s a certain sense of calm disturbance that you feel while reading Dostoevsky, and this book is no different. It has a great plot, even greater depth of thought and a very clear understanding of what is meant to be conveyed.

For those who love cerebral reads, a book like ‘Crime and Punishment’ can be a lifelong fix.

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Books Similar to ‘Crime and Punishment’…

‘Dead Souls’ (Nikolai Gogol, 1842)

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Everything resembles the truth, everything can happen to a man.

‘Dead Souls’ is perhaps the best known work in a grand catalogue of books written by Nikolai Gogol. Much like the author himself, the plot of ‘Dead Souls’ is strange, to say the least. The motive that Gogol bore while writing this was to expose the nature of petty crimes, and the middling characters of the Russian peasants and middle-class.

The protagonist, Chichikov, a conman at best, arrives in a sleepy Russian village to entice municipal officials and simpleton farmers with his plan to ‘buy dead souls’. Needless to say, what follows is an exercise in quirkiness that brutally exposes the futility of capital punishment.  

Similarity Match: 95%
‘Dead Souls’ presents itself as a more enjoyable read in terms of humour, than ‘Crime and Punishment’. But the idea behind both of these classics is the same: to expose veiled beliefs.

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‘Oblomov’ (Ivan Goncharov, 1859)

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Life is duty and obligation, therefore love, too, is a duty. It’s as if God sent it to me,’ she said, looking up at the sky, ‘and told me to love.

‘Oblomov’ may, for some readers, come as a distinctly loathsome book. The lazy life of aristocracy, coupled with the hard life of peasantry is bad enough to leave a bitter taste.

But the triumph for Goncharov lies in this very fact. He is known for his prose, while Dostoevsky for his ideas. So, it’s fascinating to read them one after another, just to see how two literary geniuses of bygone times fare against one another.

Similarity Match: 85%
‘Oblomov’, like ‘Crime and Punishment’, is an objectively ceaseless probe into Russian mind-set that can easily be extrapolated to other peoples. In spite of them being contemporaries, Goncharov’s Victorian floral prose and Dostoevsky’s bitter working-class language create a remarkable contrast.

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‘Zorba the Greek’ (Nikos Kazantzakis, 1946)

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You can knock on a deaf man’s door forever.

Kazantzakis doesn’t shy away from making it known that the plot is a mere excuse for him to justify his ramblings. But these ramblings are worth a read, because on their strange journey across Europe and Russia, a confused Greek scholar and his mysterious old companion named Zorba discuss pretty much everything under the sky: from the nature of thought to best funeral practices.

What connects ‘Zorba the Greek’ with ‘Crime and Punishment’ is their shared belief system of ‘imminent chaos’ and ‘anything and everything that can happen, will.’

The eponymous movie released in 1964 can be a pleasant follow up to the novel.

Similarity Match: 80%
‘Zorba the Greek’ is definitely more positive-spirited than ‘Crime and Punishment’. However, both of them advocate the ‘sameness’ of punishment through anecdotes.

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If You Like ‘Crime and Punishment’, You Will Like…

‘Crime and Punishment’, however influential and profound, is a structured read, and quite understandably so, as that was the norm back in the 19th century.

But fast forward a few decades, and we begin to see the structure of books being altered. In that sense, following books like ‘Crime and Punishment’ are a tad different from the ones that were mentioned till this point.

‘A Scanner Darkly’ (Philip K. Dick, 1977)

Image Source: Jeff Beaty

When do I see a photograph, when a reflection?

‘A Scanner Darkly’ is a chilling read. As far as dystopian novels go, this should rank right among the best. Written in 1977, the plot is set in near future, where drug use and everything that goes with it is a standard practice.

Bob Arctor, the protagonist, leads a dual existence as an undercover detective and the member of a junkie family. Soon enough, the lines blur and he finds himself questioning what right and wrong really are, and what crime and punishment really mean.   

‘Crime and Punishment’ takes its time to get going, while ‘A Scanner Deeply’ has no gears below the fifth. However, the most fascinating similarity between these two books is signified by intense discourse-filled conversations between Petrovich-Raskolnikov and Arctor the detective-Arctor the junkie.

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‘The Trial’ (Franz Kafka, 1925)

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Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.

The quote presented above is how Kafka opens ‘The Trial’. The reason to save this selection for the last is that it bears so many similarities with ‘Crime and Punishment’ that we might as well count them as one.

Admitted by Kafka himself, ‘The Trial’ was much too strongly influenced by ‘Crime and Punishment’. It presents the story of a perfectly ordinary man, Josef K., who, one fine morning, is arrested for no reason whatsoever. The journey that he has to endure walks us through courtrooms, municipal offices, police stations and gullies of his own mind.

Kafka was such an admirer of Dostoevsky that he called himself Dostoevsky’s blood relative. ‘The Trial’ arguably employs experimental techniques, as opposed to ‘Crime and Punishment’, but the essence of the discussion is much the same in both of these books.

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Crossing the Punitive Boundaries

The nature of punishment is an issue that should concern each and every one of us, for the times are more chaotic than ever. To help you get a deeper insight into this, these books will be of immense assistance: ‘The Castle’, ‘Notes from the Underground’, ‘Darkness At Noon’.

All of your worthy comments and suggestions are most welcome. Post them below, and let us know what you would add or what you think of the recommendations.

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