Thursday, 6 December 2012

Russian Literature

Tales, whether they be fiction or non fiction, set in Russia are a particular obsession and weakness of mine. Through it's history and geography Russia is a land I would love to explore, while it's history is often dark, the stories whether penned by a Russian hand or set in the country always intrigue me, here's some of my favourites.

Historical there's two books you should make sure are on your to read list, regardless of if you like Russia of not - Anna Karenina  and Doctor Zhivago. Both have been made into films, TV dramas and the like (in fact Kiaera Knightly has stared in adaptions of both) but the books reveal so much more. While Anna Karenina is a bit of a brick to read and in parts certainly isn't the easiest, Tolstoy's work is such a social historical document that it is worth spreading the time over coming to grab an insight into the heart of the Russian society mixed with love of a way of life that doesn't exist.

A couple of decades later and Doctor Zhivago is based. Former bourgeois members of Russian society fighting to survive just as much as the poor man. But regardless of the social circumstances love occurs. Doctor Zhivago - a tale of a man court between two women he loves and an all powerful Communist world strikes a tale of the constant battle of life verses the state. Actually in the Soviet Union, Doctor Zhivago wasn't published until 1987 over 20 years after it's first publication elsewhere. 

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons possibly marks first most noticeable read about Russia that I read and is the first in a series of novels tracing the life of Tatiana and Alexander who meet during the siege of Leningrad (otherwise known as St. Petersburg - the city was surrounded in siege conditions by the German army between September 1941 to January 1944 and effectively starved over a million Russians to death). The tale follows their love and their struggles with themselves, their secrets and the war around them. Their story continues through Tatiana and Alexander and The Summer Garden.

Continuing the story of life during the siege - The Madonnas of Leningrad is a moving story of an elderly Russian lady a former art gallery worker now living in America. Her battle with failing memory draws forth the memories of life living in the basement of the art gallery, death and starvation around her. While it's a bit of a slow read in parts and the time frames are all over the place, it's worth a read.

Non fiction wise Former People - The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith, draws home through a captivating manner the lives and the fortunes of other side of the Bolshevik Revolution - that of the bourgeois. The death of the czar and the rise of Lenin changed the lives of hundreds of Russian aristocrats, the former Princes', Countess and their families forced to loose everything with the power change. Often non fiction can be dry as stale bread yet Former People engages you in understanding the revolution from the other side, their loses, the deaths, murders and the torture as you follow the outcomes of two families -  the Sheremetevs and the Golisyn's. 
Former People is in sharp contrast to Eight Pieces of Empire By Sheets - a 20 year glimpse through the eyes of the American journalist Lawrence Scott Sheets based in and journeying around the Soviet Union just prior and after it's collapse. The fortunes of it's people and the new formation of countries documented through war narratives and ethnic diversity who knew nothing other them communism and the effects of democracy upon their new nations.

Have you read any of these? Do you go after reading about a particular time in history or country?


  1. I want to read Anna Karenina, a friend of mine loves this novel :D
    my father was in love with Russia, the old one of course, I like a few things about that place, i want to learn more.

    Thanks for sharing more books

  2. Some of these look really interesting !
    I can't say i have ever thought about reading books set in russia but i might have a look next time I'm in waterstones :)
    Recently i fell in love with the Tudor novels by Philippa Gregory which include The Other Boleyn Girl.
    I'd have never thought i'd like historical fiction but its so interesting.

  3. confession: I am a non fan of set in Russia/Russian lit. I tried. Oh I tried multiple times, but it just wasn't my thing. I'm more of an English gal or 1800 American lit gal. Yeah.
    ♥ laura
    the blog of worldly delights
    the shop of worldly delights

  4. I've never read any Russian literature, but it sounds very intriguing indeed. Nothing grips me more than a good book or two xxx