New to Russian lit --- recommendations?

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New to Russian lit --- recommendations?

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Jul 31, 2014, 11:31pm

Having learned about Russia in AP comparative government this year, I've become interested in its government, history, and culture, which naturally led me to its literature. I'm starting Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment because my dad has been raving about it and I've been meaning to read it, but does anyone have any more Russian classic or contemporary novels they recommend for an interested newcomer to Russian literature?

Ago 1, 2014, 1:12am

Last year I read The Brothers Karamazov, via audio book. I loved it and was sad when I finished it. Some say it is the greatest novel ever written. And apparently, it was somewhat unfinished...Dostoevsky intended to write a sequel or something, but then died. (I'm sure someone knowledgeable about this is gonna jump in and explain it correctly!)

I've read lots of Alexander Solzhenitsyn too, including essays. Just about everything he wrote was terrific. A biography of him by Joseph Pearce includes prose poems he wrote near the end of his life, which are published nowhere else. I really liked those poems.

Ago 1, 2014, 5:00am

I have not read any of Solzhenitsyn yet, but I have a handful of his on my shelves. In fact I'm hoping he gets selected this time around as one of our Monthly Author Reads authors so I can read & discuss him in the group! :)

There are a large number of prominent Russian classic authors, such as Nikolai Gogol, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Anton Chekov, Lermontov, Turgenev, Maksim Gorky, and of course more recently there is the esteemed Vladimir Nabokov, who, though he had to flee Russia as a teen, was very much a Russian. I've only gotten to a few of these so far, but all I've read has been wonderful and I've every reason to believe all the rest of them are every bit as worthwhile reading.

Sadly I don't really know about present day Russian authors, aside of Sergei Lukyanenko, who writes the amazing Night Watch series. It's sci-fi-fantasy, but it's truly about "good" vs "evil," and morality, and shades of gray, and such. Wonderful stuff.

Ago 1, 2014, 5:54am

This is going to be a very random list, as I've never read Russian literature anything as systematically as I have German, and I tend to be drawn to the dusty corners of the world's bookshelves in any case.

Among the "classic" authors, I like Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov; I find Leo Tolstoy a bit preachy.

Two Soviet period authors worth checking out: Daniil Kharms and Mikhail Zoshchenko. And of course there's Mikhail Bulgakov (Master and Margarita).

For science fiction, try the Brothers Strugatsky.

There are some interesting authors writing in Russian from some of the Soviet Republics: Chingiz Aitmatov (Kyrgyz, best known for Jamila); Fazil Iskander (Abkhaz); Yuri Rytkheu (Chukchi).

I haven't read very many more contemporary Russian authors, but I like Ljudmila Ulitskaja and Andrei Kurkov (who is technically Ukrainian, but writes in Russian--the borders are historically not terribly clear).

Ago 1, 2014, 6:26am

Andrei Kurkov (who is technically Ukrainian, but writes in Russian--the borders are historically not terribly clear).

Yes, that's how it is for Lukyanenko, he was born in Kazakhstan and I'm not sure if that's where he currently resides or what but I think he's not technically in Russia itself, but he writes in Russian and those countries over there all share a lot of cultural background, so...

Ago 1, 2014, 8:32am

There are many wondefful contemporary writers that you can investigate.

Glas New Russian Writing has been on a mission for many years to bring the best of contemporary Russian literature to English-language readers. Here is a link to the site:

A few of Glas's books that you might want to check out from their list include Alan Cherchesov's Requiem for the Living, which received a wonderful review just the other day from Ann Morgan (from A Year of Reading the World fame), Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's Seven Stories (can't find a touchstone link) and Alexander Snegirev's Petroleum Venus.

Other twentieth-century classics include everything by Vasily Grossman (e.g. Life and Fate, Everything Flows, Armenian Sketchbook, The Road: Short Fiction and Essays), as well as anything by Andrei Platonov (The Foundation Pit, Happy Moscow, Soul, etc, etc.).

You could check out some short story anthologies to acquaint yourself with some new writers: Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida comes immediately to mind.

Many of Victor Pelevin's books are available in translation, and more and more of Mikhail Shishkin's books are being translated - a couple to check out are The Light and the Dark and Maidenhair.

Yuri Buida is excellent. I adore The Zero Train, and The Prussian Bride is excellent, too. Vladimir Sharov's *Before and During* (Touchstone failing again) has also recently been brought out by the same translator (Oliver Ready).

A great place to find out about Russian books that are about to come out in translation is Lizok's Bookshelf. Once a year she does a round-up. Here's her round-up for 2014:

There's lots and lots of very good contemporary writing seeing its way into English, so you can really read to your heart's delight!

Ago 1, 2014, 8:51am

>6 anisoara: Thanks for all that! It's hard to know where to find out about good authors in other countries, as obviously the vast majority aren't going to wind up on big international lists, so it takes people who are familiar with it to help spread the word. :)

Editado: Ago 1, 2014, 9:15am

My pleasure!

I'd also mention Teffi, a favourite of Nicholas II and Lenin alike, and one of the most popular writers in Russia before the Revolution, as well as one of the most popular in emigration, although for some reason she slipped off the literary map following her death in 1952.

Pushkin Press have recently brought out a collection called Subtly Worded which draws on her entire body of work to acquaint readers today with this lost literary celebrity. I am one of the translators, so I'm somewhat prejudiced, but I'm not the only one who thinks she's brilliant. Just read this review by Nicholas Lezard on The Guardian:

Ago 1, 2014, 2:19pm

Ooooh, thanks, >8 anisoara: for telling us about Teffi.

Since Nabakov is mentioned (who left Russia as a teen), what about Irene Nemirovsky, who also left Russia as a teen? She is one of my favorite authors of all time.

Ago 1, 2014, 2:45pm

>9 SaintSunniva: It depends on the person, on what their mindset is about their heritage and all that. Like Nabokov always considered himself Russian first & foremost and longed to go back his whole life. If someone immerses themselves in the culture they transplant themselves to, then they might not, culturally speaking, really be considered very much of their birth country, you know?

Ago 1, 2014, 4:09pm

Thank you all so much for your awesome feedback! I'll be sure to check these out!

Ago 1, 2014, 7:11pm

So many great authors mentioned here, including a few I haven't read yet, myself. Thanks for the tips!

Echoing what's been said but adding a couple of my other favorites:
Nikolai Leskov

I personally don't care much for Tolstoy compared to his brethren. I also am in the very small minority of people who think Nabokov is overrated.

Russia also has a really fascinating branch of science fiction you may enjoy -- it's very much on the experimental, surrealist side of science fiction.

Roadside Picnic

Ago 2, 2014, 3:14am

How much Nabokov have you read? It's impossible to overrate him. What he managed to do with language is beyond belief. Very few people ever in the world have managed to reach that same height. Also 4 of your 5 were already listed. ;)

Ago 4, 2014, 9:51am

Would second all of the above - the classics, the names you know, are the ones to go to. Bulgakov and Dostoevsky could well be my favourites, but Solzhenitsyn was one of the first Russian authors I read and I still love his work - the unexpurgated In the First Circle is quite amazing.

If it's any help, there are a lot of reviews on my blog which might give you an idea about some of the books:

Ago 4, 2014, 2:44pm

>14 kaggsy: Did you read the earlier version, before they replaced that text? I've got a copy of that and since learning they made the complete one I've been debating whether I ought to find a copy of it instead...

Ago 4, 2014, 3:01pm

>15 .Monkey.: I started the earlier one many years ago, but never got very far. More recently, I picked up the fuller version and that's the one I read. Having compared the opening of the two versions, I can see that the later one is much more powerful so I would be inclined to get that one if you can. It *is* long but very good and very powerful - I reviewed it here:

although beware of spoilers!

Ago 4, 2014, 4:21pm

I don't mind length at all. Well, I suppose if you insist then I have to... XD

Ago 4, 2014, 5:59pm

I've read a lot of Russian literature and so I will probably repeat what others have said, but here are some recommendations. (By the way, I haven't been able to read Dostoyevsky since I was a teenager so I won't be mentioning him here.)

Tolstoy: Anna Karenina and War and Peace
Vassily Grossman: Life and Fate, Everything Flows, An Armenian Sketchbook, The Road
Nikolai Gogol: Dead Souls
Victor Serge (Russian but wrote in French): The Case of Comrade Tulayev, Conquered City, Unforgiving Years
Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita, The White Guard
Boris Pasternak: Doctor Zhivago
Andrey Platonov: The Foundation Pit, Soul and Other Stories
Vladimir Sorokin: Ice Trilogy, The Queue
Chekhov: Any collection of stories; I recently read this collection: Stories

And I have many other Russian writers on my TBR that I am eager to get to.

Ago 8, 2014, 6:43am

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky is pretty amazing too!

Editado: Ago 11, 2014, 5:00pm

Lots of good recommendations here; I'll add Andrei Platonov (I wrote about The Foundation Pit here and Chevengur here and here). For the last couple of years I've been working my way through early Russian prose literature, from the late 18th century on, and I've discovered some great novelists who have been thoroughly forgotten (Russian lit is so rich they can afford to discard treasures!), like Vasily Narezhny (I wrote about him here and here) and Alexander Veltman (I've written about him a number of times, e.g. here and here); I can only hope someone will eventually translate them, because I think a lot of people would enjoy them.

Edit: Oops, I see rebeccanyc already recommended Platonov!

Ago 11, 2014, 10:37am

>19 kaggsy: Krzhivzhanovsky is a little hard for me to take, but I admire what he's trying to do.

Ago 12, 2014, 4:52am

>21 rebeccanyc: I know, I think he's an acquired taste - I just love his work!

Jul 31, 2016, 2:26pm

>1 literarybuff: Read Fathers and Sons. I assume you're in high school because of the AP, a designation typically used for high school classes. I think you will find the character Arkady relateable.

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