Below is a list of 10 best Russian novels that are must-reads for anyone who is learning Russian or is simply interested in the Russian culture.
These timeless classics will help you improve your understanding of the complex Russian soul and the hardships the country had to go through in the 19th and 20th centuries.
1. Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Преступление и Наказание (1866) - Фёдор Достоевский
One of the most influential novels of the nineteenth century, Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment tells the tragic story of Raskolnikov—a talented former student whose warped philosophical outlook drives him to commit murder. Surprised by his sense of guilt and terrified of the consequences of his actions, Raskolnikov wanders through the slums of pre-revolutionary St. Petersburg trying to escape the ever-suspicious Porfiry, the official investigating the crime.
2. War and Peace (1867) by Leo Tolstoy
Война и Мир (1867) - Лев Толстой
At a glittering society party in St Petersburg in 1805, conversations are dominated by the prospect of war. Terror swiftly engulfs the country as Napoleon's army marches on Russia, and the lives of three young people are changed forever. The stories of quixotic Pierre, cynical Andrey and impetuous Natasha interweave with a huge cast, from aristocrats and peasants, to soldiers and Napoleon himself. In War and Peace (1868-9), Tolstoy entwines grand themes - conflict and love, birth and death, free will and fate - with unforgettable scenes of nineteenth-century Russia, to create a magnificent epic of human life in all its imperfection and grandeur.
3. The Master and Margarita (1967) by Mikhail Bulgakov
Мастер и Маргарита (1967) - Михаил Булгаков
Afterwards, when it was frankly too late, descriptions were issued of the man: expensive grey suit, grey beret, one green eye and the other black. He arrives in Moscow one hot summer afternoon with various alarming accomplices, including a demonic, fast-talking black cat. When he leaves, the asylums are full and the forces of law and order are in disarray. Only the Master, a man devoted to truth, and Margarita, the woman he loves, can resist the devil’s onslaught. Brilliant and blackly comic, The Master and Margarita was repressed by Stalin’s authorities and only published after the author’s death.
4. The Brothers Karamazov (1879) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Братья Карамазовы (1879) - Фёдор Достоевский
The Brothers Karamazov is a passionate philosophical novel set in 19th century Russia, that enters deeply into the ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. It is a spiritual drama of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, judgement, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia, with a plot that revolves around the subject of patricide. Dostoyevsky composed much of the novel in Staraya Russa, which inspired the main setting. Since its publication, it has been acclaimed as one of the supreme achievements in world literature.
5. Anna Karenina (1877) by Leo Tolstoy
Анна Каренина (1877) - Лев Толстой
A beautiful society wife from St. Petersburg, determined to live life on her own terms, sacrifices everything to follow her conviction that love is stronger than duty. A socially inept but warmhearted landowner pursues his own visions instead of conforming to conventional views. The adulteress and the philosopher head the vibrant cast of characters in Anna Karenina, Tolstoy's tumultuous tale of passion and self-discovery.
6. The Heart of a Dog (1925) by Mikhail Bulgakov
Собачье Сердце (1925) - Михаил Булгаков
A rich, successful Moscow professor befriends a stray dog and attempts a scientific first by transplanting into it the testicles and pituitary gland of a recently deceased man. A distinctly worryingly human animal is now on the loose, and the professor's hitherto respectable life becomes a nightmare beyond endurance. An absurd and superbly comic story, this classic novel can also be read as a fierce parable of the Russian Revolution.
7. Fathers and Sons (1862) by Ivan Turgenev
Отцы и Дети (1862) - Иван Тургенев
Turgenev's masterpiece about the conflict between generations is as fresh, outspoken, and exciting today as it was in when it was first published in 1862. The controversial portrait of Bazarov, the energetic, cynical, and self-assured `nihilist' who repudiates the romanticism of his elders, shook Russian society. Indeed the image of humanity liberated by science from age-old conformities and prejudices is one that can threaten establishments of any political or religious persuasion and is especially potent in the modern era.
8. Eugene Onegin (1833) by Alexander Pushkin
Евгений Онегин (1833) - Александр Пушкин
Eugene Onegin is the masterwork of the poet whom Russians regard as the fountainhead of their literature. Set in 1820s Russia, Pushkin's verse novel follows the fates of three men and three women. Engaging, full of suspense, and varied in tone, it contains a large cast of characters and offers the reader many literary, philosophical, and autobiographical digressions, often in a highly satirical vein. Eugene Onegin was Pushkin's own favorite work, and this new translation by Stanley Mitchell conveys the literal sense and the poetic music of the original.
9. Dead Souls (1842) by Nikolai Gogol
Мёртвые Души (1842) - Николай Гоголь
Since its publication in 1842, Dead Souls has been celebrated as a supremely realistic portrait of provincial Russian life and as a splendidly exaggerated tale; as a paean to the Russian spirit and as a remorseless satire of imperial Russian venality, vulgarity, and pomp. As Gogol's wily antihero, Chichikov, combs the back country wheeling and dealing for "dead souls"-deceased serfs who still represent money to anyone sharp enough to trade in them-we are introduced to a Dickensian cast of peasants, landowners, and conniving petty officials, few of whom can resist the seductive illogic of Chichikov's proposition.
10. A Hero of Our Time (1840) by Mikhail Lermontov
Герой Нашего Времени (1840) - Михаил Лермонтов
In its adventurous happenings–its abductions, duels, and sexual intrigues–A Hero of Our Time looks backward to the tales of Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron, so beloved by Russian society in the 1820s and ’30s. In the character of its protagonist, Pechorin–the archetypal Russian antihero–Lermontov’s novel looks forward to the subsequent glories of Russian literature that it helped, in great measure, to make possible.
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