Looking for a theme for a book club? Wanting to expand your horizons of Russia beyond the memes of Putin? Here’s a beginner’s guide to Russian literature. Thanks to the dark and surreal shades of Slavic humour, along with an enduringly captivating history, Russian authors are a joy that’s often not for the fainthearted.
Here’s a selection to get you started:
Vladimir Nabokov – Despair
Nabokov is best known for his pervy classic Lolita that was later adapted by Kubrick, but his talents certainly don’t end with his famous nymphette and American drive-ins. Despair follows a frustrated husband and bored salesman who comes across a vagrant who is his perfect double. Nabokov’s surreal novel crackles with his mocking moody tales of crime and poverty, particularly Dostoevsky, and he keeps you guessing at every page.
Yevgeny Zamyatin – We
Even Orwell admitted that he took some liberties with his sources and used a lot of this novel in his classic 1984. A true original in the Dystopian genre, every citizen is a number and nobody is allowed to feel emotion. The prose is stark, the novel is brief and it stays with you for a long time. A great addition to any bookshelf.
Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina
Yes, it’s long, but if you’ve even considered reading The Luminaries, you really don’t have an excuse. Forget Kiera Knightly or any sort of cringey adaptation, Anna Karenina is a book that you don’t read, you get into a relationship with it. Brace yourself for some odd chapters about farming, but other than that it will immerse you into the nuances of drawing rooms that are far more gripping than Austen-land and has moments that can only be described as pure beauty.
Mikhail Bulgakov – Master and Margarita
We’re in Soviet Russia, the devil shows up and a six foot talking cat has just caught the tram: this opening is probably the closest thing to realism in the whole novel. A crazed, dark and irresistibly intelligent narrative throughout: it is spectacular and completely unparalleled.