Edward Snowden’s Russian summer reading list

Anatoly Kucherena at the Moscow airport.
Russian lawyer Anatoly Kucherena speaks to the media after visiting National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden.
(Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr. / Associated Press)

Welcome to Russia, Edward Snowden! Here’s a disturbing Russian novel, just to give you a sense of what you’ve gotten yourself into.

The NSA leaker, stuck in a legal limbo in Moscow’s international airport for a month now, was able to meet a Russian lawyer for the first time today. The lawyer came bearing a gift: a copy of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s classic 1866 novel “Crime and Punishment.”

Said novel, for the uninitiated (and it really is one of those books you have to read before you die), tells the story of a down-on-his luck student named Rodion Raskolnikov who murders a shady pawnbroker.

“I bought him Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment,’ because I think that he should read about Raskolnikov,” said the lawyer Anatoly Kucherena. “I am not saying there is a similarity of their inner conflicts, but nevertheless, this world classic should be interesting for him.”


Raskolnikov kills the pawnbroker, in part, simply to see if he can get away with the crime. And he rationalizes his act by telling himself it’s an act of justice, and that he’ll put the ill-gotten money to work for good.

“What do you think, wouldn’t thousands of good deeds make up for one tiny little crime?”

Snowden faces espionage charges back home in the U.S., though his supporters say that his actions have helped expose the excesses of a security state out of control.

Told from the killer’s point of view, “Crime and Punishment” is a masterpiece of psychological tension: It’s the story of a man who seems to be at the mercy of events he himself has set in motion. Just before he kills the pawnbroker with an ax, Raskolnikov feels that “he no longer had any freedom of either mind or will, and that everything had been suddenly and finally decided.”


Snowden is now a man deprived of many freedoms. His U.S. passport has been revoked, and he will likely be arrested if he returns here.

“Crime and Punishment” is often quite grim, and perhaps for that reason Kucherena also brought Snowden works by another Russian author, “to cheer him up.” That writer is Anton Chekhov, famous for his short stories and for stage plays such as “The Cherry Orchard,” which Chekhov considered a comedy, though most U.S. productions highlight its tragic elements — it’s about a once well-off family forced to give up a beloved estate.

Snowden, 30, would like to stay in Russia and get to know the country better, Kucherena said. “He wants to study Russian culture,” Kucherena said in an interview with a Russian television network. “But his security remains his priority.”

On Wednesday, Snowden was blocked in his attempt to leave the airport, The Times reported. It seems his paperwork wasn’t quite in order.


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