Edward Snowden's reading list: Crime and Punishment as a primer on Russian life

The NSA whistleblower's lawyer says Crime and Punishment is a good way to learn about the country's way of life. Really?

As if it wasn't already bad enough for Edward Snowden, stuck in a Moscow transit lounge while his application for temporary asylum grinds its way through the purgatory of Russian bureaucracy, the guy's got to read Crime and Punishment.

His lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena, has told the world's media he'd bought his client a copy so he could get to know something of the Russian mindset and "our reality of life", adding that "he needs to read about Raskolnikov killing the old woman pawnbroker".

Really? I'd have thought something a little lighter – a crime novel or some popular non-fiction perhaps – might ease the anguish of Sheremetyevo airport. I remember reading Crime and Punishment as I inter-railed through Italy, a choice made out of pure practicality to reduce the weight of my luggage: it seemed a good bet that Crime and Punishment would last a week or two at least. The sun-soaked Italian hills were the perfect counterpart to the novel's haunting moral conflict. Raskolnikov accompanied me through every de-coupling and re-coupling of post-war rolling stock from the Gare du Nord to Naples.

I don't think I'd have felt the same trapped in transit with only Fyodor Dostoevsky's tale of anomie and repentance for company. Kucherena said that he'd also brought along some Chekhov "for dessert", but how about the wild energy of Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita? Snowden's already started learning the language – but what would you recommend to give him a feel for the Russian soul?


Liz Bury

The GuardianTramp

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