“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ~Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood
Books are the gateway to a different world. You can explore places otherwise inaccessible to a common man. And when you read literature in a particular language, not only do you learn about their culture but also what and how they think.
Russian is the largest native language in Europe with over 258 million speakers! It is the official language of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus. It has got a large percentage of speakers in central Asia, Baltic nations, and the Caucasus. It is also the second most common language on the internet.
With such a large and diverse geographical area, Russian literature is rich. The first-ever book in Russian, The Minor, a play, was written by Denis Fonvizin in 1782. After that, there was no turning back. To date, numerous books have redefined the literary course of Russian literature.
7 Books That Redefined the Russian Language
It was not easy to shortlist just 7 books from a language as vast and diverse as Russian. Here, we are with our 7 magical books. Have a read:
- Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak: Set in the backdrop of the Russian revolution, this novel is a classic tale of romance, tragedy, and misfortune. It intricately captures the struggles of people during the first half of the twentieth century. The protagonist loses his parents in his childhood. He is raised by his uncle. He goes on to marry a close friend. But then he begins to develop feelings for another woman. His strong moral values keep him tied to his wife. The complexities of the human mind are beautifully captured in this book.
- A Hero Of Our Time By Mikhail Lermontov: This groundbreaking novel paved the way to realistic fiction in Russian literature. Lermontov introduces Pechorin, the first antihero character of Russian fiction to the readers. Set in the backdrop of the Russian Caucasus in the 1830s, the novel deeply probes the psychology of a young and powerful aristocrat.
While being extremely capable, the protagonist fails to maintain positive human emotions. He takes pride in destroying lives, and brutality. Ultimately, this leads to his downfall.
- Fathers And Sons By Ivan Turgenev: Fathers and sons depict the typical conflict between generations. It explores the dilemma of a nihilist young man upon falling in love and other human emotions. This makes him question his attitude and fall towards spirituality. The main characters of the book are Nikolai, his son Arkady, and his friend Bazarov, Nikolai’s brother Pavel and his maid Fenichka who he later married. Readers get a glimpse of the Russian society where norms were strict but it was getting an air of modernity.
- Dead Souls By Nikolay Gogol: Dead souls is a satirical take on the Russian provincial life. It explores the deeds of a man who convinces landowners to buy dead souls as these dead people were still alive in documents till the next census. Landowners in those days had to pay tax on the souls that they possessed.
While the census was erratic, these landowners were forced to pay taxes even for the people who died in this duration. When the protagonist offers to buy these dead souls, he receives the skepticism of the landowners. Still, he manages to buy about 400 souls. Then the rumors begin to fuel the town and he loses his status stature.
- War And Peace By Leo Tolstoy: Talking about Russian literature is incomplete without Leo Tolstoy and war and peace. This masterpiece novel explores the psychology of people in the early 19th century when the fear of Napolean’s war loomed over Russia. The beauty of this novel lies in the fact that Tolstoy extensively studied the history of that era to create a realistic fiction.
- Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy: Another masterpiece by Tolstoy, this novel explores the complex life of Anna, a powerful socialite. She falls in love with a Vronsky but is not ready to give up on her marriage. Russian societal norms, her love for family, and fear of church keep her hands tied.
Her life takes a drastic turn when she decides to run away with Vronsky to Italy. There she faces the harshness of society. She comes back to Russia where she is shamed and shunned by her family and society as well. What follows is the tale of insecurities, moral conflict, and isolation.
- Mother By Maxim Gorky: If there is one novel that explores the depth of a mother’s love for her child, it is Gorky’s mother. The novel is set in the backdrop of the great revolution of the 1900s. Pelagueya, the mother, is married to an irresponsible and drunkard husband who dies early. The whole responsibility of raising her son, Pevlov falls on her.
She works hard in a Russian factory. Initially, Pevlov becomes an alcoholic but then he gets involved in revolutionary activities. Pelagueya is skeptical of her son’s activities at first. Being uneducated, she is unable to read the pamphlets that her sons bring. Still, her maternal instincts ask her to help her son out. she prints out her son’s anti-government speech and begins distributing it. A spy notices it and informs the officials. She is killed among the masses.
How Do I Read These Books In Their Original Language?
The truth is, the soul of a book is partially lost in translation. If you want to feel the true emotions, the best way is to read a book in its original language. But how can you do that if you do not know Russian? Well, there are plenty of online Russian tutor who can teach you at an affordable cost. The new age e-learning portals are your gateway to the literary marvel that is the Russian language. So no need to read the translations, you can enjoy these great novels in the native language!