The world has seen its share of great writers. Some of them happen to be Russian. If you are at the point where you can read great literary works in Russian, pat yourself on the back – you have come a long way! However, if you are not at that point yet, reading the translated version or watching a movie based on the books we will discuss in this post might be a great way to start. You likely have heard the titles of some of these books without realizing that they were the creations of Russian authors. While there are many books to choose from, I will include those I have actually read: “War and Peace,” “Anna Karenina,” “Lolita,” and “Crime and Punishment.” My goal is not to give you an in-depth book review, but merely to let you know a few of the “classics” that were conceived within the minds of some of Russia’s most talented novelists.
“War and Peace,” by Leo Tolstoy was written in the 1860’s with great attention to detail. Mind you, Tolstoy, went to great lengths to accurately describe a story taking place during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. If you’ve ever read it, you’ll understand how much detail is included and given the time period in which it was written, you can get an idea of the amount of effort that went into writing it. Tolstoy also wrote “Anna Karenina” a few years after “War and Peace.” Human characteristics such as love, jealousy, bitterness, morals, and the like, run rampant through his works. Some writers, including Nabokov, Dostoevsky, and William Faulkner have rated “Anna Karenina” to be the best work of fiction ever put to paper. Characters are not simply one-dimensional, events are described with utmost attention to detail, giving the reader the feeling of actually being present. In my opinion, both of these books will provide you with a glimpse into what life was like during the time periods Tolstoy wrote about. Several attempts have been made to bring these works to the movie screen, some were more successful than others. My personal favorite is this Oscar winning four part series.
This new take on Anna Karenina is pretty unique, maybe too “unique” for an average person.
Vladimir Nabokov gave us “Lolita” in the mid 1950’s. The story, which seemed twisted and bizarre for the 1950’s, seems more at home today. Middle-aged men lusting after pre-teen girls was more taboo back then – not suggesting its normal now though. One only needs to turn on the news now to see stories of teachers and students engaging in immoral relationships, Woody Allen-like incidents are as common now as hearing a politician confuse reality and truth. The bold story combined with Nabokov’s somewhat humorous way of using language make for an interesting read. I must admit that I enjoyed this 1997 movie version nearly as much as the book itself. I was fortunate to find the full movie on YouTube, give it a try if you haven’t seen it yet .
Moral codes and “psychological chess matches” run amok in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s classic, “Crime and Punishment.” Written during the 1860’s, this book contains murder, philosophy, drama to the nth degree, fate, and everything you’d expect from a modern murder mystery – save for the fact that we know the murderer’s identity the entire time. The drama that unfolds within these pages make this book the kind that you’d rather finish before putting it down – at least for me. As for the movie version of this novel, here are a couple of links, one in Russian and one in English.
Time and again, when I ponder what it took for these literary geniuses to craft these works of art, I am reminded of my own limitations as a writer. These great authors came from a vastly different time period, with fewer advantages than I possess, yet their work has and will to continue to stand the test of time. Being that these masterpieces were written many decades before the age of the internet, it makes their work all the more impressive. Nowadays we have the luxury, through the internet and various writing tools, of easily writing and researching while enjoying the comforts of home – we needn’t travel to various libraries, search out experts, or do anything more than use our fingertips. This is not to say it’s easy to write well, but the research and writing has been made easier; not to mention we can easily get our hands on copies of so many millions of titles that were not easily had in days gone by.