On Topic, I've recently started Stories of Anton Chekhov:
On Topic, I've recently started Stories of Anton Chekhov:
Tolstoy is the modern Homer, I think; I have read War & Peace five times. I've read most of Dostoevsky and taught some of it as well, and I routinely teach The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
As far as 20th century goes, Grossman's Life & fate is verrry good. It has the sprawling, epic scope that War & peace has, and the same sense of the fate of the world hanging in the balance (it mostly centers on the Battle of Stalingrad, which Grossman witnessed and participated in).
I read Crime and Punishment recently. It was hard to get through, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Going to read War and Peace soon.
I love Gogol. Also, I've just finished reading 'The Master and Margarita', having been meaning to get round to it for many years. Anyway, I loved it. The perfect book for anyone who loves both fantasy and Russian literature, I would say.
Being Russian, I'd recommend, first of all, The Cancer Ward by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. It's one of those books you just keep rereading. I don't give a monkey about its political connotations, the hospital ward being compared to the Russian state, etc etc. The story itself, the tale of several people stuck in the same ward in the days when cancer was basically a death sentence is enthralling. Some of them survive, others don't, and it's the characters themselves and their life stories that are fascinating.
Also, the book is very well executed - nothing gets in the way of the story. I tend to reread it at least once a year - sometimes in Russian, sometimes in English, depending which copy is within reach. The English translation I personally recommend is by Nicholas Bethell and David Burg.
also: i read a critical work on Dostoyevsky by Berdyaev and it was simply excellent: pointing out how Russia didn't go through the Romantic movement in the same way & how Russians have a different take on gender roles & how women are viewed in their society... I highly recommend it. (i know that's off-topic but still: some of you might like it.)
I don't know if it's already been mentioned, but there's a funny side to the Russian spirit and it was captured beautifully in Ilf and Petrov's The Twelve Chairs. I finished it this week and it has aged quite well. Instead of the usual dour and politically corect communist hero, this one has Ostap Bender: smooth operator, ladies man, embezzler and confidence trickster on the hunt for a tzarist treasure hidden in an anitique chair - one of a set of twelve. A picaresque adventure through the Russian landscape in 1927 that inspired a lot of remakes, especially on film. The style reminded me of Emir Kusturica and early Milos Forman. Worth a try.
I'm very happy you liked it. It's a very funny book indeed. :D
Thanks for this recommendation. For those with a Kindle, an ebook version is available for only $2.99. It's the Fisher translation (anyone know if this is a good one?).
For contemporary, my [ex-Soviet] husband is a big fan of Pelevin, and was recently raving over one of his books, translated into English as "Buddha's Little Finger." According to my husband, it is full of particular Soviet references, so YMMV. I haven't the patience to make it through the Russian and haven't cracked the translation yet, so I can't say how it works in English. A contemporary author who I have read both in Russian and English is Lyudmilla Petrushevskaya, best known in English, I think, for a novella called "Time: Night." She's part of a subgenre called chernukha, which probably translates as something like lit noir. Another author in that category is Lyudmilla Ulitskaya. Unfortunately, other contemporary Russian books I have read are not available in English, and I may have enjoyed them more for the sense of accomplishment I got by finishing a book in my second language than for their literary merits. My husband sometimes twits me for reading juvenilia, but I have the vocab of a 10 year old, so... :p
Another peculiar but fascinating book from more recent times (by which I mean the 60s) is "Moscow-Petushki", also translated as "Moscow to the End of the Line", by Viktor Yerofeyev. I must also admit to not having read it in English, but I did spend a semester working through it, and all its cultural and biblical allusions, during college. Reaching back to the revolutionary era, I recommend Andre Bely, who wrote Petersburg, and Zamaytin, who was previously mentioned.
College Russian included a fair amount of short story reading. Andre Bitov wrote "Prisoner of the Caucuses", which was made into both a modern movie and parodied Soviet comedy. I found Fazil Iskander's stories really funny. "Scenes from the Bathhouse" by Mikhail Zoshchenko is widely regarded as hilarious, but did not strike me so. I hated Chekhov's short stories, though, so YMMV. Isaak Babel was also good. Tatyana Tolstaya (yes, from that family) is also well known, as is Vasily Aksyonov, but neither made any memorable impression on my mind.
Further afield, geographically, my husband is a huge fan of Stanislav Lem, Polish scifi author, and I particularly love Milorad Pavic, a Serbian writer who wrote what might get lumped with magical realism, and who did a lot of experimentation with the structure of a book.
Also, none of you have mentioned Nabokov!
There's been a bit of an argument lately on a Russian writers' forum I belong to. Some said that Nabokov should be considered an American writer, and others, Russian. Some said that the Russian versions of Nabokov's books (which he self-translated from English) were just poor quality translations and that he should have hired a professional translator. Others said, "hey, this is exactly what we call his style!" :) I honestly don't know. It's true that he tried to achieve perfection in both languages, but it's also true that the Russian versions of his books are written in a slightly awkward and old-fashioned Russian language that no native speaker used any more at the time of his writing them. Don't forget he'd lost all contact with his native soil decades before he wrote his best works and it really showed in his writing.
Off the top of my head (I'm no Nabokov scholar) I wonder if being disconnected from his native soil, as you say, contributed to his insistence on avoiding non-Slavic words when he wrote in Russian. Having married into a first generation immigrant family of Russian speakers after nine years of language study, I am sometimes in the odd situation of hearing English words used in conversation when I know a perfectly good Russian word exists. My study abroad experience in 2003 means I have exposure to more recent language usage than my in-laws, who came to the States in the early 90s. Of course, in the 21st century, you can keep up with your native culture on the internet, but Nabokov would not have had that option. I would hypothesize that by strictly delineating between Russian and non-Russian in his writing, he was trying to find a way to resist the slow creep of linguistic integration. It's a little like trying to hold back the sea, I suppose, but it doesn't keep people from trying--there are many linguistic purity movements.
I want to think of a contrasting example of an author who freely mixes cultures, and I'm coming up short for literary examples. I can think of several musical examples, Gogol Bordello particularly, who are unabashedly third culture. Perhaps the answer to your debate is that Nabokov was a third culture kid who tried very hard to be a one and one culture kid.
..actually I can think of a variety of non-Russian third culture books, but I don't want to derail this thread entirely!