Questions and Answers
My students ask:
What other Russian books, as exciting as Bulgakov's “Master and Margarita”, are there to read?
“Master and Margarita” is a unique book in its unusual subject matter, and the way it weaves together real and supernatural. But there are many other excellent novels written during the Soviet period that are less known in the west. Here are just a few:
Vasily Grossman's “Life and Fate”, a monumental novel, confiscated by KGB, is compared in its scope and significance to Tolstoy's “War and Peace”. By bringing its numerous protagonists through Stalin's terror and the major Stalingrad battle of WWII, the novel bares dire moral dilemmas of the generation caught between the two murderous regimes: Nazism and Stalinism.
Boris Pasternak's “Doctor Zhivago”, banned in the USSR, has brought to its author an onslaught of criticism as well as the Nobel Prize which he was forced to decline. Russian revolution and its aftermaths as experienced by intelligentsia are among the major themes of pasternak's epic novel.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "Matryona's Home", "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" are powerful stories of the young writer that made him famous in the short-lived period of political "thaw" of early 60s.
Chingis Airmatov's "The Day Lasts More than a Hundred Years" is set in the vast windswept Central Asian steppes and the infinite reaches of galactic space. From elements of myth, history, and science fiction this leading Soviet writer from Kirghizia offers a vivid view of Central Asian and Russian (Soviet) cultures meshed together. A truly moving story and work of art.
Yuri Trifonov stands somewhat apart in that he doesn't address directly the horrors of Revolution and Stalinism: history has moved to its next stage: to the Brezhnev period of stagnation. It turns out that the great revolutionary project has degenerated into petty concerns of the urban dwellers: furniture, apartment exchanges and the like. A shrewd observer of human psyche, Trifonov is also known for his subtle style of writing. I recommend "The House on the Embankment", "The Long Farewell", "The Exchange."
Anatoly Rybakov's Trilogy "Children of the Arbat" became a great publishing sensation of Perestroika. it deals with a big chunk of history, from the early 20s to the 50s, embracing the whole generation of the young and idealistic youths aspiring to build communism and perishing in Stalin's purges. after the publication of the book, the author was credited to be the major expert on Stalin, so intimately authentic Rybakov's recreation of Stalin's way of thinking, talking and acting felt to the reader. his other excellent book is "Heavy Sand".
Lyudmila Ulitskaya's "Medea and Her Children" is a wonderful collection of short stories from a leading writer of post-soviet Russia, a biologist by training. This is a tender and compassionate rendition of THE lives of women in big cities and small TOWNS of the Russian empire.
Svetlana Alexeivich's "Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster." A journalist by trade, Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexeivich won the Nobel Prize for pioneering an oral history genre, unusual for the Russian letters. A dispassionate listener, she distills for us the voices of those who lived through cataclysms of their times: a war in Afghanistan, disintegration of the Soviet Union; Chernobyl.
Some of her other books include:
"The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II"
"Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets."
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