Seven Russian Books To Read Before You Die

Sergey Nesterov presents his list of books one should definitely read.

Seven Russian Books To Read Before You Die

Russia is known for its literature. The Russian language is very rich and complex. Russian authors are world wildly acclaimed as masters of their craft, especially in the 19 century. It is true, that literature can help readers understand a different culture rather easily. That is because books are a perfect representation of the country that it was written in.

The list includes big novels and short stories that are crucial for understanding Russian (Soviet) culture. First four books are from the 19th century, the golden age of the Russian literature. The other three are from the 20th century, the silver age of the Russian literature. I hope this list will help you if you are new to Russian literature. You will learn a lot of new about Russian culture and will have a great time reading this remarkable books.

The 19th century

War and Peace (1869) – Leo Tolstoy

Let’s start with one of the biggest and famous book ever written. Many people all over the world agree that this novel is probably one of the most important books ever written, not only in Russia, but in the whole world. This book is like a huge painting that tells you a long and large-scale story about events that stretches for years, this is a truly epic tale. As many great stories, this book is really big, four-volume epic tome that every child has to read at school. At first view, this book is about five aristocratic families living through Russia’s war with Napoleon in the 19th century. But if you look closely, this books is a thrilling examination of history, culture, philosophy, psychology and the human response to war. A truly one of a kind novel.

Eugene Onegin (1833) - Alexander Pushkin

A truly great Russian novel, if you didn’t know, it is entirely in verse! Pushkin considered by a huge number of people in our country the greatest poet of all time, because he was such an innovative writer. Not surprising is that everyone in Russia know who Pushkin is and loves him, he is the one the most important persons that shaped Russian culture. This novel is his best work. It demonstrates why Pushkin considered number one poet in Russia. All you need to know that it tells story about early 19th century life with all its’ pros and cons. The main hero is heartless young man Eugene who destroys lives of other people. But book is not really that dark as you may have though, it is really is very humorous and ironical. If you want to start reading Russian literature but don’t really want to read massive psychological novels, you should start with this one.

Crime and Punishment (1866) – Fyodor Dostoevsky

Over 150 years ago Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky tried to imagine what happens in the mind of a killer and that is how one of the best-known works of Russian literature was born. This novel tells a story about a young student Rodion Raskolnikov who lives in Saint Petersburg. He runs out of money to continue his studies and after selling the last of his things to old pawnbroker, he decides to kill and rob her. This book has had a huge impact on culture, some people even call it “The first psychological thriller”. Dostoevsky explores the brutality of Russian society and what happens in the mind of a cold blooded killer. Even after so many years this book is extremely thrilling to read. Dostoevsky writing and deep understanding of psychology is simply so good, that you just should not ignore this novel.

A Hero of Our Time (1840) – Mikhail Lermontov

Now in the popular culture there is a growing popularity in making the protagonist in a movie or a book an anti-hero. Well, Grigoriy Pechorin, who is the main protagonist of this novel, is the Russian’s first anti-hero. He has no meaning in life, he plays with death, he is a nihilist, a truly rebel without a cause! This book is also considered as the first Russian psychological novel. The novel is five connected stories that helps us understand Pechorin’s ambiguous and attractive soul and mind better. Along with the Pushkin, Lermontov considered the greatest Russian poet of the 19th century.

The 20th century

Short stories by Anton Chekhov - Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov was one the best if not the best author of short stories in Russia. He was a transitional writer that worked at the turn of the century. In my opinion, he is the best Russian author. He was able to tell an incredibly memorable tales on just 2 or 3 pages, such a gift that is not given to everyone. He was funny, but melancholic at the same time. His heroes are very loveable and you can feel that Chekhov loved his characters too. That is because they can be petty and pathetic sometimes, like a real human being. I strongly suggest you to read his short stories like:” The Lady with the Dog”, “Kashtanka” and “The Death of a Government Clerk” and many others, they will make you feel raw emotions. Also, you should totally read his las play “The Cherry Orchard” (1904), it is a beautiful story about nostalgia, melancholy and the end of the 19th century dreams. He was truly a man of few words, but his every sentence may have weigh more than many of other authors’ books.

The Master and Margarita (completed in 1940, published in 1967) - Mikhail Bulgakov

One of the most beloved and mystical stories ever written on paper. In this book Mikhail Bulgakov captured the essence on how it was like to live in Joseph Stalin’s USSR period and added to that a devil himself visiting Moscow. If you have never heard about this book, you should stop scrolling this article and go to book store to buy and read this book, you are totally not going to regret buying it! Novel was banned in the USSR and was published only 27 years later already after Bulgakov’s death. This story is liked by so many people all around the world. For example, Mick Jagger from The Rolling Stones wrote one of his best songs while being inspired by Bulgakov’s novel. The name of this song is “Sympathy For a Devil” which tells the story about Satan visiting USSR. The Master and Margarita is one the best stories written in 20th century, must-read for everyone.

Doctor Zhivago (1957) - Boris Pasternak

This book is sometimes called “War and Peace of the 20th century” and it’s true. This book was really hugely inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s novel, but it is much shorter and easier to read. Boris Pasternak was awarded with a Nobel prize in literature for this book, but because of the Soviet government he was forced to refuse it. This novel tells a story about poet-physician Yuri Zhivago, who tries to find his place in life during the times of the Russian Revolution. Prose and language of this book is stunningly beautiful. Besides, there are some poetry of Pasternak in this book, it is very enjoyable too. In my opinion, Doctor Zhivago is last worldwide Russian masterpiece that will be remembered for many years. You should totally give it a try.

Text by
Sergey Nesterov