Despite the blog’s name I rarely ever discuss books on here. I get that people want the quick content, the pretty pictures and the outfit inspiration. I also get that almost no one wants to hear me gush about dense Russian novels. But it’s been four years and I think it’s high time we bring books into this equation, at least once. So here, my friends, is the Russian lit starter kit. A helpful mini guide to what authors and books to know and where to start.
Leo Tolstoy – Perhaps the most well known Russian author, Tolstoy is famous for his incredibly long books (hello, 1,500 pages) that can contain upwards of 500 characters.
Works to know: Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Fyodor Dostoevsky - The second giant in the set, Dostoevsky wrote smaller novels prone to focus on one or two central characters. He’s most well known for his penetrating psychological portraits.
Works to know: Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Notes from the Underground
Nikolai Gogol – Often deemed the Father of Russian Realism and the first great Russian novelist, Gogol is best known for his comic and often biting satire of Russian life and government. His style incorporates romantic and grotesque aspects as well. Technically he’s Ukranian but the Russians claim his their own.
Works to know: Dead Souls, The Overcoat, The Government Inspector
Ivan Turgenev - Best known for his short stories and essays, Turgenev depicts country life in Russia more simplistically than his cohorts. He’s also known for his rigid moral compass which makes its way into many of his works.
Works to know: Fathers and Sons, Smoke, Sportsman’s Sketches
Anton Chekhov – Many consider Chekhov to be one of the greatest short story writers in history, though he’s also praised for his plays. He was one of the three playwrights responsible for the birth of modern theater.
Works to know: Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, The Seagull
Vladimir Nabokov - Although Nabokov came much later, he’s every bit as important as the others. Most famous for his controversial novel Lolita, Nabokov is heralded for his beautiful use of language and fluid style.
Works to know: Lolita, Ada or Ardor, Pale Fire
Crime and Punishment – I recommend this to everyone who wants to get into Russian literature. It’s less imposing than some of Tolstoy’s works and it has an intriguing plot line, but it’s a great representation of the depth of a Russian novel.
Anna Karenina – Anna is best for those looking for a powerful and complicated, but extremely gratifying story. It’s long and at times very painful but so beautifully written that it’s worth it.
War and Peace – Most people read War and Peace as a challenge. I see it as a good way to learn about Russian culture and history in the nineteenth century (even Napoleon makes a debut). It’s fiction, but it gives a great sense of the country.
Lolita – This is one of my personal favorites and I recommend it to everyone with a love of language. The story may be morally murky but you just can’t beat Nabokov’s prose. If you enjoy Lolita, read Laughter in the Dark which I see as a precursor to Lo.
The Overcoat – Here Gogol is not only critiquing Russian bureaucracy, but questioning the very point of human existence. I recommend this one to intellectuals looking for a thought provoking and humorous read.
Naturally, these recommendations are coming from my personal biases, and I can’t even begin to cover all of the wonderful writers who have come out of Russia. But this is the basic rundown that I give Russian lit newbies, the big names, the big texts, and my personal favorites.
Have you tried out any of the Russians?
Photo is mine.