"In these times of unusual crisis and uncertainty, we recommend turning to the classics for solace and illumination"
Portrait of Natalia Petrunkevich (1892) Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge
As all Russophiles know, Russian literature has an answer for everything.
It is a deeply comforting thought that we love to share with the world. And so, in these times of unusual crisis and uncertainty, we recommend turning to the classics for solace and illumination.
Of course, not everyone interprets reality in the same way. We are all looking to solve different problems. With that in mind, here are 17 recommendations for how Russian literature can meet you where you are at, and hopefully take you away from all this madness, if only for a little while...
If you feel this:
We are under attack, in the midst of a deep existential crisis, and it is going to take the boundless efforts of all the people to counter this threat.
Try reading this:
War and Peace, by Lev Tolstoy
There is something surreal, even farcical about these times. It is as if a battle of Good vs. Evil is being played out through each of us, yet in a very curious way. I expect to be invited to a supernatural ball any day now.
Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
These are dark, dark times, yet I cannot help but kindle hope for the future. We will get through this, so long as we fasten ourselves to love and community.
Into the Whirlwind, by Evgenia Ginzburg
I have a cartload and a half full of nostalgia for the way things were and just don’t want to face this future I see unfolding before us. Can’t things just go on as they have been?
The Cherry Orchard, by Anton Chekhov
If there is one good thing to come from all this social distancing, it is a tearing down of the falsehoods and petty veneer of social convention. We all need to battle against our pride and selfishness and not be so self-centered.
Yevgeny Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin
Humor, I need humor in dark times. How about something with a Quixote-esque quest embedded in it, and plenty of sharp jabs at society and corruption? Oh, and the characters have to be eccentric yet believable.
The Little Golden Calf, by Ilf and Petrov
I believe life is a bit gloomy, oppressive, and senseless, and the best way to cope is to prepare well against adversity and live an ordered life. Or perhaps we can wrest beauty from ugliness by escaping to the country and creating a less complicated existence. Or, better yet, maybe one should just not be governed by banalities but by human love and compassion.
The Little Trilogy (“The Man in the Case,” “Gooseberries,” and “About Love”), by Anton Chekhov
I am haunted by the people we may lose, by the futures that will be crushed, the families destroyed, by this tiny virus.
House on the Embankment, by Yuri Trifonov
We must endure. Survival is our utmost concern. The odds may be against us, but with the right attitude and a heavy dose of resilience and luck, we can get through this.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
What we are living through now is only a simulacrum (an imposter, if you will) of something far direr. We are fooling ourselves if we think the "real thing" is here already.
The Inspector General, by Nikolai Gogol
I am particularly worried about those who are trying to profit from this global pandemic at the expense of others. Such people represent the moral decay of our society and should be raised up as symbols of ridicule.
Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol
I need a refuge. I just want to escape from our over-busy, over-complicated lives to a simpler life. How about rural life in nineteenth-century Russia? Sure, it was far from perfect, but at least it was real.
A Sportsman’s Notebook, by Ivan Turgenev
Sure, a refuge sounds great, but I don't want to go any further back than the mid-twentieth. And I would like to disappear into stories of love and passion. Is there anything like that in Russian literature, a novel or story collection devoted entirely to love in its many forms?
Dark Avenues, by Ivan Bunin
I am a bit of an idealist and feel we can all do a bit better than the middling lives we accept for ourselves. Call me mad, but I find our social vanities and consumerism to be hypocritical and short-sighted when so much of the world needs better of us.
Woe from Wit, by Alexander Griboyedov
I need some good dystopian literature, to remind me that things could be far, far worse. But it should be really well written.
The Slynx, by Tatyana Tolstaya
The pace and scope of change surrounding us are just frightening – at times even debilitating. Add to that a culture that is materialistic, self-absorbed, greedy and manipulative, and I really feel we could use an anti-hero – someone who is compassionate and selfless, thoughtful and deliberate – in short, a good person.
The Idiot, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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