Add to this my recent re-reading of Crime and Punishment for the ARRT Genre Study tomorrow, and my listening to the amazingly, awesome Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart [review soon] and I have Russia and Russian literature on the brain.
I know I am not the only one too. Here are some suggestions to pair with your hours of viewing of the Russian landscape.
- One of my all-time favorite books is The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. This magical realism tale, written during the terrible Stalinist years in which Bulgakov dared to satirize and criticize Soviet Communism is delivered in lyrical, moving, and compelling prose. This book is not for everyone, but it is also one those who read it will never be able to forget.
- I happen to love Russian literature. I don’t know if it is my Russia Jewish genes peeking through or if I just get the sense of humor in these tales. One of my favorite more modern Russian novels that perfectly captures why I enjoy these novels is Death and the Penguin by Andrew Kurkov. From the publisher: "Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin, for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work published, yet the subjects of his obituaries continue to cling to life. But when he opens the newspaper to see his work in print for the first time, his pride swiftly turns to terror. He and Misha have been drawn into a trap from which there appears to be no escape.” It may not sound like it from this summary, but I tell you, this novel is very funny (in a dark and twisted way).
- If you want to read a historically set tale set in Russia that is filled with cold and snow, I highly recommend another one of my all-time favorites, City of Thieves by David Benioff.
Well there are some books I have enjoyed that fit the bill, but what about others? Many lists of what to read while enjoying the Sochi Olympics are appearing everywhere. I would like to focus on those that reinforce the sense of place. Books about the Olympics are much easier to find on your own:
- NPR offered this Olympic Preview of novels about the caucuses.
- Here is a piece from the New Yorker’s Blog entitled “Blood and Tragedy: The Caucasus in the Literary Imagination.”
- My colleague Jason, owner of The Book Table has been raving about A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra for months. He is not alone. It is still on my to-read list. Maybe now is the best time to tackle this book set during the Chechen conflict of the 1990s.
I try to embrace the place where the Olympics is set as they come around every other year. It is a great escape to learn about a new place while watching the world come together in peace. While this year’s setting is not without much controversy, I am not condoning the behavior of the hosts; in fact, quite the opposite, many of the books I have suggested are heart wrenching looks into the very serious problems that come with a Sochi setting.