World Book Day: Reading Russia

Happy World Book day! OK, I know I am a bit late with this, but I’m going to claim the excuse that every day is book day in Russia. Reading, especially novels, is still really popular here- evidenced by the number of HUGE bookstores and people’s behaviour on the metro and in the sun in the park. This informal celebration of all things literary is a great opportunity to share with you some reads from Russia, as I highlight four of my top picks of the Russian books I have read so far!

Classic: Master and Margarita, Bulgakov

This novel is well known and well loved, for a good reason. It features love, romance, competing ideologies, the devil, and even witchcraft in a brilliant narrative which criticises the USSR while weaving morally complex problems. As it is classical, it is a more difficult stylistic read than the others, but well worth it. This opinion has been backed up by my fellow students, especially Anna!

Autobiographical: Diary of a Perestroika Kid, Kozlov

How does one describe life in the Soviet Union? Growing up, experiencing puberty? This is what the author explores in his vignette -style ‘diary’, a piece of work that shows us just how similar growing up is under the USSR. Although we are mostly concerned with the bullying, drinking, model cars and ‘babes’, the ideological background shades the reading experience with an additional flavour. We begin to wonder what is naivety, and what is willing ignorance of the political events, as instability of the USSR is interwoven with the personal insecurity of a developing teenager.

Content warning: this is about puberty, anyone who avoids tales that mention masturbation and sexual development need not apply.

Spy Novel: The Winter Queen, Akunin

Described as the Russian Sherlock Holmes, this spy novel is fast paced and entertaining, although much of the action actually takes part outside of Russia. It is the first in a very popular series in Russia, as the hero of the story sets out to protect justice and his country.

Dystopia: Day of the Opreihnik

Dark, disturbing, brutal. The Opreihnik- the tzars police force under Ivan the Terrible, have been reformed in this imaginary future where Russian democracy has failed once and for all, memory of communism has been demolished and a new king is on the throne in a white Kremlin. Following the days actions of this ‘servant’ of the state, we see complex alliances, drug use, sexual abuse and the return of terror in Russia, a terrifying alternative future.

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