Boasting many of the world’s finest novelists, it’s no surprise that Russian literature is one of the first places I look for good book recommendations. Escape from the summer heat by diving into this list of five Russian novels you won’t want to put down!
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1. The Winter Queen — Азазель
Published in 1998, this is the first novel in the popular series about Erast Fandorin, a fictional 19th-century Russian detective crafted by best-selling Russian author Grigori Chkhartishvili — writing under the pen name Boris Akunin.
Synopsis: Set in the year 1876 in Moscow, Erast Fandorin, the newest member of the Investigation Division of the Moscow Police, takes the case of the death of a young student from a wealthy family. Was this simply a tragic case of suicide or could it perhaps be connected to a more sinister case of murder?
2. Anna Karenina — Анна Каренина
Written by one of the greatest novelists of all time and published in installments from 1873 to 1877, Leo Tolstoy’s story of Anna Karenina has been reproduced in four ballets, six stage plays, ten operas, and 16 different films.
Synopsis: Set in 19th-century Imperial Russia, this timeless novel explores the idea of family through the tragic tale of Anna Karenina, the young wife of a much older aristocrat. Through the narrative of Anna’s affair with Count Vronsky, Tolstoy explores several diverse topics, like the existing feudal system in Russia, as well as Russian politics, social class, gender, morality, and religion.
3. The Big Green Tent — 3еленый шатер
A critically acclaimed 21st-century Russian writer, Ludmila Ulitskaya underlines the subversive power of books to spark change in her latest novel published in 2010.
Synopsis: The novel follows the friendship of three schoolboys in 1950s Moscow as they journey into adulthood in a society marked by censorship, exile, and the KGB. A poet, a musician, and a photographer, these three young men seek the power of art and Russian literature to overcome the oppressive regime.
4. The Overcoat — Шинель
If diving into a Russian novel seems a little daunting, you can get a good taste of Russian literature from this classic short story published in 1842. Written by Ukrainian-born Russian author Nikolai Gogol, this work played a significant role in the development of other influential Russian authors, including Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and has been reproduced in multiple stage and film interpretations.
Synopsis: This short story explores a government clerk’s obsession with purchasing a new overcoat, and the unfortunate subsequent events. Through this seemingly materialistic desire, Gogol explores the potential of material goods, like clothing, to create an identity through personal expression and to create a community through attention, inclusion, and respect from others.
5. We — Мы
Completed in 1921, this Russian dystopian novel has influenced many other works of dystopian fiction, including George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Synopsis: Set in the future dystopia of a totalitarian state (in which citizens are under the constant watchful eye of the Benefactor), engineer D-503 struggles when he encounters a woman named I-330 and finds himself intensely attracted to her, despite her refusal to conform to the structures of their society.
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What are your favorite works of Russian literature? Let us know in the comments below!