Why We Should Not Stop Reading Russian Literature
Russia has had many periods of turmoil throughout its history. The current unprovoked war against Ukraine is but the latest. With disgusting past leaders like Stalin and Lenin, it should come as no surprise that someone like Putin would seek more power via any way possible.
Despite all this, it is important, maybe even more important now, that we should not stop reading Russian literature. There are many amazing Russian authors with many vital books. This list is only a small smattering of what a troubled Russian culture has produced.
Dostoevsky and Tolstoy
These two authors always come to mind when talking Russian literature. Dostoevsky has two of my favorite novels: Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Idiot.
I have read under half of Tolstoy’s most famous novel, War and Peace but liked Anna Karenina. A shorter, but still a masterpiece is The Death of Ivan Ilych.
Nabokov and Pasternak
Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita was and is controversial. However, it is a masterpiece and tells a lot about human nature, however disturbing that can be. I have not yet read Pale Fire, but that is often said to be even better. Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago is an epic tale about the Russian Revolution. Pasternak declined being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Turgenev, Gogol and Bulgakov
Ivan Turgenev’s Father and Sons is a notable classic published in 1862. I have yet to read it but it is high on the list.
Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls is a bizarre yet fascinating read about a schemer that purchases the property of “dead souls”. Gogol has several good short stories to check out as well. Note: Gogol was born in Ukraine.
Mikhail Bulgakov has several novels, The Master and Margarita and Heart of a Dog being ones I’ve read. Both were excellent. Like many Russian novels, The Master and Margarita was controversial and was not published during Bulgakov’s lifetime. When it was published, it was censored.
Pushkin, Lermontov and Sholokhov
Alexander Pushkin’s classic verse novel, Eugene Onegin is not an easy read but considered a “fountainhead” of Russian literature. Mikhail Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time was published in 1840. As a contemporary of Pushkin, both are considered some of most important Russian poets. Both also died in duels.
Mikhail Sholokhov’s And Quiet Flows the Don is an under-appreciated classic. It is also a gigantic epic novel of over 1,400 pages. Sholokhov was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965.
Perhaps Russia’s finest short story and playwright (at least my favorite), Chekhov is known for his dramatic skills. “Chekhov’s gun” has become a mainstay in all types of stories: any detail in a story should serve a purpose in the narrative. Uncle Vanya, The Seagull, and all of his short stories are worth reading.
Solzhenitsyn was a prolific and profound writer. His Gulag Archipelago, while not an easy read, should be taught in school. The Red Wheel series is an historical fiction covering Russia in the First World War. I have yet to dive into these lengthy volumes.
However, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is a much more accessible entry into Solzhenitsyn’s writing. This book should be read more than once. It is a vital look into the hideousness that is communist oppression. Also on my list to read is Cancer Ward.
There will always be conflicts and wars. Dangerous leaders lead countries into dangerous times. That is why it is always vital to continue reading great literature. This list is by no means exhaustive, as there are plenty of great authors and books to discover.
These great works of art are why we should never stop reading Russian literature.