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Your Favourite Russian Novel?


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Just finished War & Peace, which was a pleasant surprise - a far easier read than I had expected. 

I went through a Russian phase years ago (pre-kids!) with Solzhenitsyn (lots), Dostoevsky ( Crime & Punishment, The Idiot, Brothers Karamazov, Notes from the Underground), The Master & Margarita (I found this challenging), Gorky's My Childhood (greatest last line ever), Tolstoy (Anna Karenina, Resurrection, short stories) and Dr Zhivago.

My absolute favourite would be Doctor Zhivago. I could happily open it anywhere and just drink the language up, and I like the characters. Running in second place would be The Idiot, I like the integrity of it. Actually that's what I like about Doctor Zhivago too. 

Anyway, what you would say is your favourite? Any favourites I haven't read yet?

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I literally just got We The Living from audible before coming over to WTM just now.  I've read other things by Ayn Rand, but it's been a looooong time.  

I also struggled with The Master and Margarita.  Still scratching my head about that one.  Some elements I loved, but the ridiculous elements I just couldn't really "get".      

 

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1 hour ago, Monica_in_Switzerland said:

I also struggled with The Master and Margarita.  Still scratching my head about that one.  Some elements I loved, but the ridiculous elements I just couldn't really "get".      

I had a friend in college who took a Russian Lit class and told me I should read her two favorites - The Idiot and The Master and Margarita.  I was bored by all the 'sensitive soul slowly dying of tuberculosis' stuff in The Idiot - the theme or sub-plot of so many novels of that era - and I'm with you - I didn't 'get' a bunch of The Master and Margarita.  Which my friend and apparently so many people love.  I've wondered if I should give it another go and figure out what I missed? 

Or maybe I just like Tolstoy better, lol.  AK is my fave, but I also liked W&P.   For other authors, I did like Dr. Zhivago.  And I really liked the Chekov play I watched, but I haven't read much.  I have a book of short stories that's been lying around here for years...

I've wondered if I should try another Dostoevsky instead of The Idiot but have never gotten beyond the wondering... lol.

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2 hours ago, Matryoshka said:

I had a friend in college who took a Russian Lit class and told me I should read her two favorites - The Idiot and The Master and Margarita.  I was bored by all the 'sensitive soul slowly dying of tuberculosis' stuff in The Idiot - the theme or sub-plot of so many novels of that era - and I'm with you - I didn't 'get' a bunch of The Master and Margarita.  Which my friend and apparently so many people love.  I've wondered if I should give it another go and figure out what I missed? 

Or maybe I just like Tolstoy better, lol.  AK is my fave, but I also liked W&P.   For other authors, I did like Dr. Zhivago.  And I really liked the Chekov play I watched, but I haven't read much.  I have a book of short stories that's been lying around here for years...

I've wondered if I should try another Dostoevsky instead of The Idiot but have never gotten beyond the wondering... lol.

 

I think I need to reread Master and Margarita with a study guide in hand.  I'm certain I'm messing a lot.  I love the Pontius Pilate sub story; I found that very moving.  But the rest of it was just so absurd.  

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6 minutes ago, Monica_in_Switzerland said:

I think I need to reread Master and Margarita with a study guide in hand.  I'm certain I'm messing a lot.  I love the Pontius Pilate sub story; I found that very moving.  But the rest of it was just so absurd.  

My friend likely had a leg up on me having taken it in a Lit class where all that stuff would be explained!  I remember almost nothing from it except there was some dude with wall-eye and an anthropomorphic cat...

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2 minutes ago, KathyBC said:

I recently gave up on The Master and Margarita, but you guys are inspiring me. I searched Spotify podcasts and found a few on that novel, so perhaps with some help I may try that again this winter.

LOL, I think I will wait and see if any of my fellows that aren't getting it are enlightened with a second go-round, perhaps with assistance, before I take another go at it myself.  If you become enlightened, I'll be interested in your reports. 😄 

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The Master and Margarita, but I was a Russian major in college, so I had an amazing professor at Pomona College who read it with us in Russian, and could help us decipher the hidden subtexts (we knew most of the political backstory by that point in our studies).

I would also add We by Yevgeny Zamyatin because I love dystopias.

For more contemporary lit, I have to go with Vladimir Nobokov -- Lolita, Pnin, and Pale Fire.

If you like poetry, classic Russian poets like Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Vladimir Mayakovsky are amazing.

 

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Thanks, everyone, some good suggestions. If it wasn't clear, I have read Anna Karenina, and I think it's Tolstoy's best . . . maybe. I liked Resurrection too. 

SeaConquest, I forgot I'd gone through a Nabokov stage too, but thanks for the suggestion of poetry, great idea.

Ausmum, great idea about Chekhov.

PrincessMommy, I had not heard of Laurus, thank you, and thanks for the link to the thread.

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I liked the Master and Margarita.  I wouldn’t assume I got everything but it was the right level of ridiculous that I needed for this year.  I also read the fatal eggs and a young Drs notebook this year.  We’ve been incubating lots of chickens so that added a bit of fun to The Fatal Eggs though I somewhat prefer a happy ending.  

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40 minutes ago, Ausmumof3 said:

Weird additional question but are there any female Russian authors that can’t be missed?  There seems to be mostly the men. 

Not a weird question at all.

https://pages.shanti.virginia.edu/russian/works-of-contemporary-russian-women-writers/

ETA:

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/109456.Best_Books_by_Russian_Female_Writers

Edited by SeaConquest
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I took Russian lit senior year in high school. If I am remembering correctly, my personal fave was Anna Kerenina. Next, Crime and Punishment. Third, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. To be honest, those are the only 3 I remember - maybe we read The Death of Ivan Ilyich, but I don't remember a thing about it but the name. 

 

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Teaching3Bears, I think One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is the best place to start for teens - we studied it at school and it's very short (being one day!) but vivid. You could pair it with I am David if you haven't read that yet. Not Russian but related, and the language and concepts are wonderful. 

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11 hours ago, Teaching3bears said:

Would any of these make a good read-aloud with teens?  I read Anna Karenina and it was interesting but I would not like to read it aloud with my teens.  


mmy favorite is War and Peace - probably more suitable for teens than Anna Karenina

maybe The Brothers Karamazov - it was an assigned book when I was in high school - though I prefer War and Peace

 

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I loved The Master & Margarita but I am sure I missed a ton of references & info. I do plan to read it again someday.

For something different than what has already been suggested, I highly recommend A Dream in Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu, a Chukchi writer.

Quote

A Dream in Polar Fog is at once a cross-cultural journey, an ethnographic chronicle of the people of Chukotka, and a politically and emotionally charged adventure story. It is the story of John MacLennan, a Canadian sailor who is left behind by his ship, stranded on the northeastern tip of Siberia and the story of the Chukchi community that adopts this wounded stranger and teaches him to live as a true human being. Over time, John comes to know his new companions as a real people who share the best and worst of human traits with his own kind. Tragedy strikes, and wounds are healed with compassion and honesty as tensions rise and fall. Rytkheu’s empathy, humor, and provocative voice guide us across the magnificent landscape of the North and reveal all the complexity and beauty of a vanishing world.

For something with a more modern setting, I enjoyed The Dream Life of Sukhanov by Olga Grushin.

Quote

Olga Grushin's astonishing literary debut has won her comparisons with everyone from Gogol to Nabokov. A virtuoso study in betrayal and its consequences, it explores - really, colonizes - the consciousness of Anatoly Sukhanov, who many years before abandoned the precarious existence of an underground artist for the perks of a Soviet apparatchik. But, at the age of 56, his perfect life is suddenly disintegrating. Buried dreams return to haunt him. New political alignments threaten to undo him.

Vaulting effortlessly from the real to the surreal and from privilege to paranoia, The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a darkly funny, demonically entertaining novel.

 

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Oh gosh, there's so much Russian lit I 'd love to read.  I really enjoyed Crime and Punishment.  I've always wanted to read The Brother Karamazov, so this is a reminder to read it!  I thought Gogol's short stories were interesting and strange and I remember them so well -- so that's something, even though I wouldn't consider them a favorite.  I loved poetry by Alexander Pushkin.  (What a talent, translating poetry!)

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I went through a long phase of reading Russian literature. There would have been a time when had I been offered the magical gift to be be fluent in an unknown (to me) foreign language it would have been Russian, so I could have read the master works in the original language.

So many great novels have already been mentioned, but a couple that have not been are Turgenev's Fathers and Sons and while it has been 40 years (and memory has dimmed) I remember enjoying the darkly satirical novel The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin by Vladimir Voinovich.

There was one Russian novel, Yawning Heights by Alexander Zinoviev, that a college girlfriend of mine (who was a Russian literature major) insisted was one of the great masterpieces and a "must read," but somehow I never managed to plow through it. Always intended to revisit it at a later date. Perhaps in my next lifetime?

Bill   

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8 hours ago, Roadrunner said:

Master and Margarita.

 

may I ask what people didn’t get in this book? I guess there is a lot of detail as it pertains to the life in the USSR. Was that an issue?

 

For me, I guess it was some of the more dream-like elements that I struggled with.  It starts off wonderfully, with the series of events leading to the man being beheaded by the tram- predicted by Satan- and I thought, this is going to be great!  But I could just never really embrace the antics of the cat and the pince-nez guy and the guy with tusks (?  Am I remembering this correctly?)...   I didn't dislike the novel, I just felt like most of it passed right over my head.  I loved the actual story about the Master and Margarita... but I couldn't seem to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to understand the novel and a unified whole.  

 

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1 hour ago, Monica_in_Switzerland said:

 

For me, I guess it was some of the more dream-like elements that I struggled with.  It starts off wonderfully, with the series of events leading to the man being beheaded by the tram- predicted by Satan- and I thought, this is going to be great!  But I could just never really embrace the antics of the cat and the pince-nez guy and the guy with tusks (?  Am I remembering this correctly?)...   I didn't dislike the novel, I just felt like most of it passed right over my head.  I loved the actual story about the Master and Margarita... but I couldn't seem to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to understand the novel and a unified whole.  

 

Yep.

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On 11/16/2020 at 10:27 AM, Matryoshka said:

I had a friend in college who took a Russian Lit class and told me I should read her two favorites - The Idiot and The Master and Margarita.  I was bored by all the 'sensitive soul slowly dying of tuberculosis' stuff in The Idiot - the theme or sub-plot of so many novels of that era - and I'm with you - I didn't 'get' a bunch of The Master and Margarita.  Which my friend and apparently so many people love.  I've wondered if I should give it another go and figure out what I missed? 

Or maybe I just like Tolstoy better, lol.  AK is my fave, but I also liked W&P.   For other authors, I did like Dr. Zhivago.  And I really liked the Chekov play I watched, but I haven't read much.  I have a book of short stories that's been lying around here for years...

I've wondered if I should try another Dostoevsky instead of The Idiot but have never gotten beyond the wondering... lol.

I read Crime and Punishment and though I liked it okay I thought it was melodramatic and over the top. I've since learned that melodramatic and over the top is typical for Dostoyevsky. I tried The Brothers Karamazov three times - or maybe four - and finally decided to stop punishing myself. Though Dostoyevsky would probably think self punishment necessary. 😄 

I tried The Master and Margarita twice and just couldn't get into it. I found One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich interesting in a teaching me about Soviet gulags kind of way. It's listed as a novel but felt more like a novella to me. I read a few of Chekov's short stories but though I found them mildly interesting I'm not a fan of short stories. I would like to read some Gogol, especially The Overcoat but I just never got around to it. Again, it's that short story thing with me.

I love both War and Peace and Anna Karenina so Tolstoy really is my favorite.

OP, I didn't realize you already read Anna Karenina (I guess a lot of us didn't). My post probably wasn't very helpful lol.

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