Serge Voronoff is a surgeon born in Voronezh, Russia and later a naturalised French citizen, famous for experiments implanting animal testicles into hSerge Voronoff is a surgeon born in Voronezh, Russia and later a naturalised French citizen, famous for experiments implanting animal testicles into humans. This was during a time when xenotransplantation research was trending and in 1889 he injected himself under the skin with a combination of ground-up dog and guinea pig testicles. He theorised that the animal implants will help increases the hormonal effects to retard ageing. However his methods quickly lost favour when it was discovered any improvements were a result of the placebo effect. This real life scientist helped inspire Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel A Dog’s Heart (also known as Heart of a Dog).
While foraging through the garbage on winter night in Moscow, 1924 a stray dog is found by a cook and given a scrubbing with hot water. While waiting his end, the dog lies there in self-pity, but to his surprise a successful surgeon Filip Preobrazhensk comes and gives him a piece of sausage. The dog followed Filip home where he is give the name Sharik, which is a word to describe a well pampered dog. Very experiments were performed on Sharik, including various transplants of human organs until he was transformed into an unkempt human and given the name Poligraf Poligrafovich Sharikov.
Having read a few books by Mikhail Bulgakov, I have come to expect one thing; social satire on the state of Communist Russia. A Dog’s Heart has this in spades, satirising the Communist ideal of the New Soviet man, while even criticising eugenics. The New Soviet man was an idolised version of what the Communist Party of the Soviet Union believe all citizens should be like. Leon Trotsky wrote about this in his 1924 book Literature and Revolution; “Man will make it his purpose to master his own feelings, to raise his instincts to the heights of consciousness, to make them transparent, to extend the wires of his will into hidden recesses, and thereby to raise himself to a new plane, to create a higher social biologic type, or, if you please, a superman.” The New Soviet man (or woman) was selfless, learned, healthy, muscular, and enthusiastic in spreading the socialist Revolution, this was the ideal citizen needed to grow the Soviet nation.
The plot of A Dog’s Heart parodies Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein while it looks at the idea of the New Soviet man. This gives Bulgakov the ability to look at eugenics as well. Take for example the practices of Serge Voronoff and compare them with Victor Frankenstein. This paints a vivid picture and if the Soviets knew how to create their ideal citizen in a lab there is no doubt in my mind they would be working towards; it is possibly, they were researching a way in secret.
Mikhail Bulgakov seems to have started a tradition of doubling names with patronymic; Poligraf Poligrafovich in A Dog’s Heart and Leopold Leopoldovitch in A Young Doctor’s Notebook. This could be considered a nod to Nikolai Gogol’s with his hero Akakii Akakievich in “The Overcoat”. However I have come to learn this is also satirising the new naming conventions adopted during the early Soviet Union. A large number of Soviet children were given atypical names to show their Revolutionary support. This included initialisms, for example; Мэл (Mel named after Marx, Engels and Lenin), Марлен (Marlene named after Marx and Lenin) and Стэн (Stan named after Stalin and Engels).
The more I read from Mikhail Bulgakov, the more I think he was one of Russia’s best satirist. I have been slowly working my way through Manuscripts Don’t Burn, which is a collection of Bulgakov’s letters and diary entries compiled by J.A.E. Curtis. This has been beneficial in gaining insight to the start’of the Soviet Union at the time of writing his novels. A Dog’s Heart is one of Bulgakov’s better known novels and I am glad to have read it with an understanding of the personal and historical context. I believe The Master and Margarita is Mikhail Bulgakov’s best novel but A Dog’s Heart is worth checking out too.
Vladimir Girshkin is not your typical hero, but the unhappy and sickly, twenty-five year old bureaucrat is just that in The Russian Debutante’s HandboVladimir Girshkin is not your typical hero, but the unhappy and sickly, twenty-five year old bureaucrat is just that in The Russian Debutante’s Handbook. His mother gave him the nickname “Little Failure”, he spends his days as a clerk for the Emma Lazarus Immigrant Absorption Society. An encounter with an old Russian war hero leads Vladimir on an adventure away from his job on the Lower East Side of New York to Prague. Surrounded by a Prava expat community Vladimir launches a scheme so ridiculous that it is actually brilliant.
Czechoslovakia was a satellite state of the Soviet Union, ever since the coup d’état of February 1948 when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia seized power of the country with the help of the USSR. The Soviets call this Victorious February but most people are more familiar with the Velvet Revolution of 1989. This non-violent protest against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia saw the end of a 41 year rule by the Communist party. Then finally the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into Czech Republic and Slovakia as of 1 January 1993. In the 1990s Prague saw an invasion of expats and the city was often referred to as the “Paris of the 1990s” or “the Eastern European Paris”.
As many people are aware, I am a bit of a fan of Gary Shteyngart, he has a way about writing humorous and satirical novels, and I am all too quick to recommend Super Sad True Love Story to anyone that is willing to listen, especially since it is very relevant to today’s society. After reading his memoir Little Failure I was surprised to find just how autobiographical his novels were, I had an idea of some of it but not to this extent. Since reading Little Failure, I was determine to read all of Shteyngart’s novels starting with his debut The Russian Debutante’s Handbook.
This is a highly imaginative novel blending satire with some bizarre humour. I really enjoyed the use of language within this debut but found the rest lacking, although this is a testimony of the growth of Gary Shteyngart as a writer. I have to say that The Russian Debutante’s Handbook is a novel for people that enjoy and know what to expect from Shteyngart and I would recommend starting with Super Sad True Love Story (obviously) or maybe his memoir Little Failure. Shteyngart is a brilliant writer and while I did enjoy The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, now I need to try his next novel, Absurdistan.
Set in Baden-Baden, a small spa town in the foothills of the black forest, in the south west of Germany, near the border of France and Switzerland. GrSet in Baden-Baden, a small spa town in the foothills of the black forest, in the south west of Germany, near the border of France and Switzerland. Grigory Mikhailovich Litvinov has arrived in the town after spending years in the west; here he plans to meet up with his fiancée Tatyana. While there, he bumps into Irina an old flame, who is now married to a prominent aristocrat General Valerian Vladimirovitch Ratmirov. This chance meeting derails all Girgory’s plans for the future and sends his life into turmoil. Smoke is a melancholy novel of an impossible romance and an apogee of Ivan Turgenev’s later novels.
I know what my wife would say, this is a typical Russian novel about a man that has a fiancée that has waited for him all these years while he was out west but then an old flame turns up and he doubts his relationship. This is a common trope in classic Russian literature but this is also autobiographical for Ivan Turgenev. At the time of writing this novel, Turgenev was living in Baden-Baden to be near his lover Opera singer Madame Viardot. Creepily, he moved next door the singer and her husband. His relationship with Madame Viardot turned into a lifelong affair that resulted in Turgenev never marrying, although not sure what her husband thought of it all.
Smoke is a satirical novel aimed to highlight the problems Ivan Turgenev found with mother Russia. The conservatives are unwilling to change and adapt to the help modernise Russia, while he believed that the revolutionaries were glorifying a Slav mysticism, which we all know as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. With one novel, Turgenev managed to alienate the majority of Russia in one hit; the book even sparked a heated feud with fellow writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.
While this satirical exposé into his fellow countrymen was met with a lot of criticism within Russia, Smoke was still published in the March 1867 issue of The Russian Messenger. The Russian Messenger is one of the best Russian literary magazines during the 19th century publishing the majority of the great pieces from this country. Smoke may not be the best Ivan Turgenev novel to start with but it was an interesting book to read none the less. The amount of debate it sparked was fascinating to explore and I believe Smoke holds a well-deserved spot in the Russian canon.
Anna Karenina is the tragic story of the socialite’s marriage to Karenin and her affair with the wealthy Count Vronsky. The novel begins in the midstAnna Karenina is the tragic story of the socialite’s marriage to Karenin and her affair with the wealthy Count Vronsky. The novel begins in the midst of their families break up due to her brother’s constant womanising; a situation that preferences her own situation throughout the novel. Running in parallel to this story of Konstantin Levin, a humble country landowner that wishes to marry Kitty, who is Anna’s sister in-law. Anna Karenina is a pinnacle piece of realist literature, exploring a wide range of family issues.
At over 800 pages, Anna Karenina can be a daunting novel to pick up; the large cast of characters does not make it any easier. I look at this classic novel as an exploration into melodrama that just about every family experiences. Born in 1828, Lev (Leo) Nikolaevich Tolstoy was born into a large and wealthy Russian landowning family, and has often been suggested that Anna Karenina is based on a similar social upbringing. While there are vast differences, issues with wealth, religion, farming and morality are issues that seem to parallel between reality and fiction. The story arch of Levin is considered to be autobiographical; Tolstoy’s first name is Lev (although in English he is known as Leo) and the Russian surname Levin actually means Lev.
Leo Tolstoy has been known for adding real life events into his fiction as a way with dealing with current political and social issues. Within Anna Karenina, events like the liberal reforms initiated by Emperor Alexander II of Russia and the judicial reform are used as the backdrop for the novel. This allows him to explore current issues, like the developing of Russian into the industrial age and the role of agriculture in these changing times. Also Tolstoy questions the role of the woman in this changing society and (the ever popular in Russian lit) class struggles.
The story of Anna Karenina is probably the most interesting for me and I enjoyed reading the struggle between love and the public opinion. She was trapped in a marriage and wanted to divorce but Karenin, who was a politician cared more about his public image. Then there is the fact that Anna’s brothers womanising destroyed the family and now she is faced with a similar situation that could cause the same damage. Adultery becomes a big theme within the book and seems to be a common theme within Russian literature to this day. However with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), these three novels seemed to start a fascination in exploring the themes of passion and adultery in the mid to late nineteenth century.
There is a lot to explore within this book, and re-reading Anna Karenina was such an enjoyable experience. I know big books often scare me but there is something about going back to a much-loved novel that I find enjoyable. Leo Tolstoy intentionally made this novel long, he wanted to replicate life’s journey and the struggles people face along the way. I think he was able to capture that struggle and Anna Karenina will remain a favourite on my shelves and in Russian literature. There are so many more themes that could be explored within the novel but I will leave that for others to discover on their own.
Eduard Limonov is a Russian born writer and politican. Best known for founding and leading the banned National Bolshevik Party which opposed VladimirEduard Limonov is a Russian born writer and politican. Best known for founding and leading the banned National Bolshevik Party which opposed Vladimir Putin from 1994 till 2007. The National Bolshevik Party (Natsbols) was a militant type organisation that defended Stalinism, it was never register as an official political party. Nowadays Eduard Limonov is a member of the umbrella coalition known as The Other Russia which oppose the leadership of Putin for a variety of reasons from political to human rights issues. The Other Russia has a mixed group of supporters from liberals, nationalists, socialists and communists all working together to achieve a Russia without Vladimir Putin leading it.
Firstly I would like to point out that the subtitle for Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère is ‘a novel’ and there can be debates around if this should be considered a biography or a novel. Eduard Limonov’s life reads very much like a novel and this could be in part because Emmanuel Carrère is an excellent writer and John Lambert translated it into English wonderfully. I do not know enough about Limonov to be able to disagree with categorising of this as a novel but I do think all good biographies have elements of fiction to make them more readable.
Having said that the life of Eduard Limonov is a fascinating read; some consider him a terrorist, others a political leader, and there is no denying that. The beauty of Limonov is the way Emmanuel Carrère has captured this complex character in a way that shows all sides of the man while avoiding a biased portrayal. There is a lot worth talking about when it comes to Eduard Limonov but I do not want to go too much into his life story; there just is not enough time.
I am fascinated by the history of Russia, especially when it comes to the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. I love the way Emmanuel Carrère has captured the life of Eduard Limonov, a political figure that I knew nothing about. I am tempted to try some of Limonov’s own books, in particular It’s Me, Eddie: A Fictional Memoir and Memoir of a Russian Punk. Has anyone read anything by Eduard Limonov and is he worth reading? With his life experiences, I am interested to see just how he portrays himself in his books and explore more of his life story.
When I first read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov back in 2012 I had no idea how to review it. Now that I have re-read the book, I am stiWhen I first read The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov back in 2012 I had no idea how to review it. Now that I have re-read the book, I am still at a loss. The Master and Margarita is often considered as one of the best novels of the 20th century by critics and cited as the top example of Soviet satire. Like most of Mikhail Bulgakov’s bibliography, this author never saw the effect that this novel had on the world; it was written between 1928 and 1940 but was first published in 1967, long after his death.
One of the things I love about Russian literature is the social commentary and satirical nature found in a lot of their books. During the Soviet era there was a lot written about the political state of the country but these were often heavily censored before publication. There was a distribution practise happening at the time call called samizdat, which is when individuals reproduced censored publications and passed them out to readers. The term samizdat comes from the Russian words, sam which roughly means “self” and izdat “publishing house”, so possibly the first use of self-publishing. If it wasn’t for this underground practice we may never have the uncensored editions of Russian classics like Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, the majority of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn books and of course The Master and Margarita.
The novel starts out with Berlioz and Bezdomny talking at the Patriarch ponds when a mysterious professor appears and strikes up a conversation. This professor is actually Satan and he was talking to them about the existence of God, the idea being if God doesn’t exist, can Satan?. Russia at the time was an atheist state, in fact communism and religion often do not go hand in hand. During the Stalinist era the Soviet government tried to suppress all forms of religious expression. Bulgakov’s commentary on religion and the government is an interesting one and while there are other interpretations of the novel this was what I took away from the novel this time round.
The ideas of censorship of religion continues with the Master’s book about Pontius Pilate, which was rejected and he was accused of pilatism. Though pilatism is found throughout the book The Master and Margarita as well, Pilate is not only in the Master’s novel but appears in Satan’s stories as well as dreams. The Master has poured his heart and soul into it his novel and having rejected sent him into a tailspin. This satirisation of censorship and religion plays though out the entire novel.
The idea of pilatism is an interesting one since in Christianity Pontius Pilate is the seen as the one that sentenced Jesus (referred to by his Hebrew name Yeshua Ha-Nozri in this novel) to die on the cross. Pilate becomes a symbol of humanity’s evil within religion and The Master and Margarita but you can argue that it is possible that he was a victim of society. Pilate’s ruling on Yeshua Ha-Nozri was due to pressure from the people and the high priests, he literally (and symbolically) washed his hands of the situation. I got the impression that Mikhail Bulgakov was comparing this idea of pilatism with the soviet government at the time. Human nature is apparently evil but it is also very influential of society, and what does that say about the atheist state?
There is so much going on within this novel and I would love to talk about the influences of Goethe’s tragic play Faust on the book. However I think I would need to re-read Faust to be able to compare it with The Master and Margarita. I would have also liked to explore the constant changes on narration, from an omniscient observer to the characters within the book but not sure what else to say about that. I re-read this book as part of a buddy read, my first buddy read in fact and I had a lot of fun doing this but I think I wasn’t a good reading partner. This time I read the Hugh Aplin translation of The Master and Margarita and I think I enjoyed it more than the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation I read last time. This may have been because I got more out of the book or maybe there is something about Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translations I didn’t like, I tend to avoid their translations.
I hope I have made a coherent review, I focused mainly on censorship and religion because this book is weird and all over the place so I needed to stick to one topic to make sense of what I have read. I do plan to re-read The Master and Margarita sometime in my life, I might even try a different translation again (any suggestions?). I got so much out of this book this time around and has really made me appreciate the value of re-reading. I ended my last review of this book telling people to ‘just read it’ and I think that sentiment still stands.
Moscow 1945, the Soviet Union is preparing for their Victory Day celebration on the 9th May, celebrating the defeat of the Germans. While Stalin and tMoscow 1945, the Soviet Union is preparing for their Victory Day celebration on the 9th May, celebrating the defeat of the Germans. While Stalin and the rest of Moscow is celebrating, on a nearby bridge a teenage boy and girl lie dead. Was it murder, a suicide pact or part of a bigger conspiracy against the Bolshevik state? Stalin himself is interested in this investigation which at the centre of it all is an exclusive school where all Russia’s most important leaders send their children.
Simon Sebag Montefiore is a British journalist and historian who has written many books about Russia including two biographies on Joseph Stalin (Young Stalin and Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar). His book Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar went on to win multiple awards including the now defunct History Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. It is with this background he wrote One Night in Winter, his third novel set in Soviet era (the other two being My Affair with Stalin and Sashenka).
While the novel is set around the deaths of a teenage boy and girl, One Night in Winter starts off with our protagonist, Andrei. Having returned with his mother from exile in Stalinabad (known Dushanbe, Tajikistan) for the sins of his father, Andrei is determined to start a new life. This included being enrolled into the exclusive School 801, where he wants badly to fit in and make friends. This is the school which the country’s top leaders send their children, and he quickly falls in with a group of people who are trying to start their own literary movement; The Fatal Romantics.
The Fatal Romantics are inspired by the workings of Alexander Pushkin and in particular, his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin. Despite the fact Pushkin is a cultural icon and even one of Joseph Stalin’s favourite poets, The Fatal Romantics are playing a dangerous game, one could be accused of bourgeois sentimentalism or being un-Bolshevik. The rules for The Fatal Romantics club were as followed;
1. We suffocate in a philistine world of science and planning, ruled by the cold machine of history. 2. We live for love and romance. 3. If we cannot live with love, we choose death. This is why we conduct our secret rites; this is why we play ‘The Game’.
What stood out to me the most about One Night in Winter was the amount of research that seemed to go into this novel; the afterword from the author even goes into details about historical inaccuracies and why facts were changed for the story. I appreciate this in a piece of historical fiction and made me more trusting of what I was reading. Because this novel was a campus type novel, featuring a literary movement, set in Russia, I had high hopes for the book and it did not let me down. There are a few problems I did find with the book, however for the most part, I was completely sucked in.
I have not read Simon Sebag Montefiore’s non-fiction but I am interested in reading a biography or two on Joseph Stalin. I got the impression Montefiore is a little sympathetic towards Stalin and might lead to a bias view in a biography. Being aware of his opinions towards this tyrant will allow me to go in with a different expectation. One Night in Winter gave a great insight of the cultural and mindset of the people living through the Soviet era, and I found it to be a compelling read.
Ivan Ilych’s life revolved around his career; as a high court judge he takes his job very seriously. However after he falls off a ladder, he soon discIvan Ilych’s life revolved around his career; as a high court judge he takes his job very seriously. However after he falls off a ladder, he soon discovers that he is going to die. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a novella that deals with the meaning of life in the face of death. A masterpiece for Leo Tolstoy written after his religious conversion in the late 1870s.
Something that was fascinating about The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the drastic change in writing style when comparing it to Anna Karenina and War and Peace. I am not just referring to the length, but that does play a big part. I have read somewhere that Tolstoy intentionally made Anna Karenina and War and Peace so long because he wanted to replicate life and the journey the characters face. Allowing the reader to experience every decision and moral dilemma that the character is facing, exploring the growth or evolution of each and every person within the novels.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich takes a more focused approach, dealing with major questions revolving around the meaning of life, death and spirituality. Leo Tolstoy had a major conversion in the late 1870s and the questions in this novel were the questions he was asking himself. Whether or not Ivan Ilyich found the answers he was looking for is up to the reader but it is believed that Leo Tolstoy was still looking for the same answers well after finishing this novella.
There is a lot of pain and torment that appears in this book, which reflects the authors search for answers and that is what really stood out for me. Not only was I reading a spiritual/existential struggle of the protagonist but Tolstoy’s own feeling really came out within the pages. This is what makes this a masterpiece that explores the tortured artist in great detail. I don’t want to say much more, this is the type of book people have to read and make their own mind up about the themes presented, but it is worth reading.
Moscow, Christmas Eve 1949; a man makes a phone call to the American embassy to warn them about the Soviet Atom Bomb project. This call was caught onMoscow, Christmas Eve 1949; a man makes a phone call to the American embassy to warn them about the Soviet Atom Bomb project. This call was caught on tape and quickly disconnected by The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). A brilliant mathematician named Gleb Nerzhin, was taken as a sharashka (known as zeks) prisoner and ordered to help track down the mystery caller. The zeks know that they have it better than a “regular” gulag prisoners but they are faced with the moral dilemma; to aid a political system they oppose or be transferred to the deadly labour camps.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is a Russian author as well as a historian; he was also a critic of Soviet totalitarianism which found himself in prison much like Gleb Nerzhin. He was accused of anti-revolutionary propaganda under Russian SFSR Penal Code (Article 58 paragraph 10) which is a ‘catch-all’ criminal offence that could be used against anyone that might threaten the government. During the period of Stalinism, the crime of “propaganda and agitation that called to overturn or undermining of the Soviet power” jumped from a six month prison sentence to seven years of imprisonment, with possible internal exile for two to five years. On 7 July 1945, Solzhenitsyn was sentenced to seven years in a labour camp for comments he made in private letters to a friend. After his sentence ended, Solzhenitsyn was then internally exiled for life at Kok-Terek, which is in the north-eastern region of Kazakhstan.
The First Circle was self-censored before Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn even attempted to get it published in 1968. Originally the book was 96 chapters long but the censorship turned the novel into 87 chapters. Some changes included the man telling another doctor to share some new medicine with the French instead of warning the Americans about the atom bomb. All mention of the Roman Catholics and religion was also removed. It wasn’t till 2009 a new English translation (not sure of the details on the Russian editions) saw the book restored and uncensored; now with the title In The First Circle.
The title alone is fascinating and it allows the reader to pick up on the whole metaphor before starting the novel. Looking at Dante’s Inferno, it is easy to find that the first circle of hell is limbo. In the epic poem Virgil introduces Dante to people like Socrates, Plato, Homer, Horace and Ovid. The time between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is often referred to as the Harrowing of Hell, in which he descended into limbo and brought salvation to the righteous. However in Dante’s Inferno this meant that Christ saved people like Noah, Moses, Abraham and King David, but a lot of the intellectuals where left. This is metaphor for the penal institutions, making reference to all the intellectuals and political thinkers arrested under Stalin’s Russia.
This novel made me feel a lot smarter than I actually am, there is a lot of information within In The First Circle however Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn presented them in accessible way. Going into the book I knew a little about Solzhenitsyn’s life and the metaphor in the title was explained in the Goodreads synopsis. So I was able to witness how everything came together without doing any research. The book sometimes goes into Russian history; I was fascinated with everything I learnt.
I have read so many books set in Cold War Russia but I don’t think there have been many actually written by a Russian. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has lead an interesting life and I am keen to read more of his novels before attempting The Gulag Archipelago, his three volume book on the history of a gulag labour camp. If you have paid attention to my best of 2014 list you would have noticed that In The First Circle did make the list. This was a wonderful book that was both thrilling and educational, I would recommend it to anyone interested in Russian history, especially the Cold War era.
Aliens have made contact, or have they? Thirteen years after the visitation, an international science cooperative has locked up each landing site, dubAliens have made contact, or have they? Thirteen years after the visitation, an international science cooperative has locked up each landing site, dubbed Zones in an effort to study the unexplained phenomena. Red Schuhart is a stalker, someone that sneaks into the zones and tries to collect artefacts. Despite the legal ramifications, artefacts on the black market sell really well. When Red puts together another team to collect a “full empty” everything goes wrong.
The attempts to gain publication of Roadside Picnic is a story in itself; like most Russian literature this novel was originally serialised in a literary magazine. Attempts to publish in book form took over eight years, mainly due to denial by the Department for Agitation and Propaganda. The heavily censored book that originally was published was a significant departure to what the authors originally wrote. I am unclear as to whether the new translation I read corrected this censorship, to quote the back of the book “this authoritative new translation corrects many errors and omissions”. I know some of the corrections made included to the original translation starting thirty years after the visitation rather than thirteen but unsure what else was changed. However, despite the censorship and notwithstanding the fact this novel was out-of-print in America for thirty years; Roadside Picnic is wildly regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time.
The title Roadside Picnic refers to the visitation and the fact that they never made contact with humanity. The novel plays with the idea that intelligent life wouldn’t want to make contact with the human race. One look at humanity, full of all the violence towards each other, aliens would conclude that humans are not intelligent life forms but rather savages. One character within the novel, Dr. Valentine Pilman compared the aliens visit to that of an extra-terrestrial picnic.
“Xenology is an unnatural mixture of science fiction and formal logic. At its core is a flawed assumption—that an alien race would be psychologically human.”
It is fascinating to look at humanity in a first contact novel and it reminded me of how much I’ve enjoyed the psychological/philosophical science fiction novels that seemed to be produced in the 1960s and 70s. However Roadside Picnic went deeper; like most Russian novels of this time, there was a strong reflection on society at the time. Like I said before, I am not sure if this edition still holds the Soviet censorship but I was impressed by the subtle look at society. It wasn’t just a poke at the Soviet Union but rather a look at humanity under an unidentifiable superpower. This could be an American superpower and it looks at ideas of what might happen if the government prohibits the people from gaining access to the biggest scientific discovery of their time. You have a struggle between quarantined verses legitimate scientific research, playing with the moral idea of government regulated technology.
Moving away from the themes, Roadside Picnic is a thrilling and beautifully written novel. Red Schuhart almost comes across as a hard-boiled narrator but less cynical; he remains a wide-eyed curious protagonist throughout the narrative. A surreal, tense story that threw out the rules found in a ‘first contact’ novel and ended up redefining the genre. It went on to challenge some of the ideas in the study of xenology and perhaps even ufology.
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky have been the authors of over twenty science fiction novels, their unique style of blending Soviet rationalism with speculative fiction can be found throughout their books. Roadside Picnic remains their masterpiece and inspired the Russian cult classic movie Stalker (1979) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky wrote the screenplay for Stalker and then the novelisation; no idea why you need a novelisation of a movie that was based on a book. Roadside Picnic is an amazing novel, and reminds me why I love Russian science fiction. The blend of social commentary and science fiction is what I continue to look for when searching for books in this genre.
Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov is an unemployed aspiring writer struggling to live in a post-soviet society. He has aspirations to write novels but aViktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov is an unemployed aspiring writer struggling to live in a post-soviet society. He has aspirations to write novels but a job writing obituaries conveniently fell into his lap. Viktor’s job is to prepare obituaries for notable Ukrainian figures. However he quickly found out he was being assigned to write obituaries of the enemies of an unknown organisation, using the newspaper as a front. He is now trapped in a situation and there appears to be no escape.
The title of this book refers to Viktor’s job and his pet king penguin, Misha. The Kiev zoo had run out of money and could no long afford to support or feed the animals. Their solution was to give the pets to any citizen able to feed them in the hope they will care for the animals. Andrey Kurkov uses Misha to mirror Viktor Zolotaryov. An existential look into life imitating art and the balance between life and death.
Death and the Penguin is a dark comedy and political satire that portrays a bleak post-Soviet Ukraine to the reader. Kurkov takes a pragmatic approach with exploring morality. The idea of writing a mournful article in case a politician or socialite dies suddenly in exchange for money offers a morbid look at mortality but that is not enough for Andrey Kurkov and he wants to talk about politics and corruption. “People have got used to the corruption. People here are flexible and they accept the new rules and don’t dwell on moral questions. They just watch what everyone else is doing and try to find their own ways of deceiving others to make money for themselves to survive”
The Kiev Kurkov portrays is one driven by greed and corruption. A place where bribes have to be handed out before an ambulance will come and take a dying man to hospital. However, once at the hospital the staff can offer no medicines to ease the pain, let alone a cure. A place where money rules and the gangster underworld are offering a practical solution into solving corruption. Turning this society into a place where organised crime and political corruption seem to be ruling in tandem.
What really stuck with me was the parallels between Viktor and Misha’s life. Starting from struggling to feeling trapped, Misha’s life mimicked Viktor’s own life. Also Misha helped provide a contrast with Victor’s plot; exploring ideas of life and death simultaneously. While people are dying due to the hit list, Viktor struggles to keep Misha alive in an environment that is not suitable for a king penguin. These parallels and contrast make up the back-bone of the book and what really cemented my love for this novel.
Death and the Penguin is a wonderful satire that combines elements of the surreal and existential. I really enjoyed the dark comedy and the themes Andrey Kurkov explored within this novel. There is a sequel to the book called Penguin Lost which I plan to read but I have no idea how this story could continue. As part of my Russian lit project, I plan to explore a lot more post-Soviet literature and if this is anything to go by, I know I will discover some great novels.
All that is Solid Melts into Air tells the story of the Soviet Union in 1986. A nine year-old piano prodigy continuously falling victim to bullies, aAll that is Solid Melts into Air tells the story of the Soviet Union in 1986. A nine year-old piano prodigy continuously falling victim to bullies, a surgeon throwing himself into his work to avoid the emotion pain of a failed marriage, a former dissident struggling to free herself from political constraints. Everyday Russians trying to make life work in this repressed state; that was until a disaster in Ukraine changes things.
Most people who know me know that I am a fan of Russian literature and books set in Russia. The Cold War years are of particular interest to me, the social and political unrest makes for a haunting backdrop for great story telling. When I head that All that is Solid Melts into Air was this year’s answer to A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, it was all I needed to buy this book. While reading the book I found out the novel centred around the Chernobyl nuclear accident which just gave that extra element to turn this into a new favourite.
I have never read a novel about the Chernobyl disaster before and I am struggling to think of other books that focus on this historical event. So I was pleased to have a new insight on a situation I hope to never experience. This was a beautiful and haunting tale of Russians living life and the connections they make along the way. However little gems like the controversial idea of implementing safety measure pre-disaster and the Soviet Union’s efforts to cover the accident up really helped make this novel great.
The title is taken from a line in The Communist Manifesto, which is quoted before the novel kicks off. This is an interesting quote to add, not just to give a reference to the title but the implications of what to expect within the novel. As Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels theorise in their political manifesto, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”.
“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” – Karl Marx (The Communist Manifesto)
While this is a strong character driven novel, it is not the personal but political transgressions that stood out for me. All that is Solid Melts into Air is set in a time where the Iron Curtain is beginning to collapse; things are drastically changing and then the disaster involving the Chernobyl Power Plant throws the people into civil unrest. While the book focuses on a few characters the overall theme is one of class struggles. The Russian people struggling against the Soviet government; the fear and repression rules stronger than the radioactive atmosphere. An interesting concept considering the communist society that Marx wrote about was nothing like the political government at the time.
I am a little sad to see this gem has remained under the radar; All that is Solid Melts into Air deserves so much more attention. Despite that horrific setting, this is a novel of great beauty with visceral portrayals of both people and places. The struggle the people go through is handled with tender care and empathy. It is hard to believe that Darragh McKeon is a debut author; much like Anthony Marra, I am eagerly awaiting his next novel. All that is Solid Melts into Air is a new favourite and you can expect it to be near the top of my ‘best of 2014’ list.
When people thing of big books often War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is mentioned. This Russian classic depicts the French invasion of Russia in 1812. TrWhen people thing of big books often War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is mentioned. This Russian classic depicts the French invasion of Russia in 1812. True to Tolstoy form, War and Peace also looks at classes and the impact of the Napoleonic invasion on the Tsarist society. While this book can be considered an epic historical war novel, for me this was a work of philosophical ideas. This is one of the hardest books to review, not because I have nothing to say but rather there is so much to cover and I have no idea where to start.
Just to put things into perspective, I started this book in October and have been slowly chipping away at it for four months. It is a hard battle and you really need to take your time with a book like this because Tolstoy has a lot to say. This is the kind of book that feels like you‘ve climbed a mountain when you finally finish and you can just feel your pretentious levels rising. For those interested, I read the Oxford World’s Classics edition which has the translations by Aylmer and Louise Maude. Many people debate on which translation is the best but I thought going with an Oxford World’s Classics would be a safe bet; I love this publisher and know I’m always getting a decent copy of the book.
Right off the bat you are flung into this world and you meet so many people. Tolstoy has an amazing ability to give the reader a sense of a person with a few lines, so even the minor characters in this book get some sort of personality. There are hundreds (over 500) characters within War and Peace and I often found it difficult to keep up with them all but thanks to Leo Tolstoy’s writing ability I could relax a little because even if I forgot about a character, when they reappear further in the book I still had a sense of who they are. This is possible due to the way this book was originally written and I will talk more on that later.
Most of the major characters within War and Peace are members of the aristocracy and it is interesting to see them all fighting for a higher position in society, government or the military. People like Boris rise in society while others like the Rostov fall, Dolokhov gets demoted while Pierre plots an assassination. Not only do we have the Napoleonic war happening within these pages, a battle for social standing rages through this novel. It is all about power but paradoxically the people with the most power within this book are the ones that seem to give up control.
If you don’t have the knowledge of Russian or Napoleonic history, this novel accommodates the reader. I found myself at times looking up information about the history just to satisfy my curiosity but as the book progressed, my research subsided. It is in Leo Tolstoy’s style to give you as much information as possible, this does make the book longer but for me I think it was a huge bonus. But you must realise this is a work of fiction and most of the people are fictional. Tolstoy was telling a story of the invasion and the harsh nature of war. You can even look at the second epilogue and read more of the authors thoughts on the subject and the philosophical ideas held within this book.
War and Peace was originally serialised in the literary magazine The Russian Messenger between 1865 and 1867. This magazine plays host to many of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novels. This means that originally people read War and Peace over the course of three years. This means at times the novel may feel repetitive and covering plot points done before but this is just a result of the original format. It comes in handy with characters as they are reintroduced and because I took my time reading this classic, it became a vital part.
There is so much going on within War and Peace and it took me a long time trying to work out what I wanted to say and what to leave out. This is the kind of book that needs to be revisited in the future, Tolstoy has a lot to say and I’m interested in exploring the themes. I loved this book; it is a roller-coaster of emotions and philosophical ideas. I’ve only scratched the surface of what is happening in this novel and then wrote a small amount of what I discovered. I can’t imagine ever being able to fully understand the brilliance of Tolstoy and War and Peace. For me, Fyodor Dostoyevsky is a better writer but Leo Tolstoy has a unique ability to capture the lives of everyone involved in one war.
In a small village in Chechnya, an eight year old Havaa watches as her father is abducted by Russian soldiers. Their neighbour, Akhmed was also watchIn a small village in Chechnya, an eight year old Havaa watches as her father is abducted by Russian soldiers. Their neighbour, Akhmed was also watch and takes Havaa as he knows he will be the only person that might be able to help her. They seek shelter at a bombed-out hospital, where they meet Sonja, a tough and strong minded doctor who has no desire to risk it. All three people’s worlds are turned upside down in such a short period of time. Slowly intricate patterns are revealed that bind these three companions together and ultimately seals their fate.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena takes place mainly in 1994; not too long after the dissolution of the Soviet Union (1991) and the Chechen-Ingush ASSR split (1992). Now The Chechen Republic was fighting for their independence. In the First Chechen War the Russian Federation tried to seize control only to be fought off by the locals. It wasn’t till 1996 did Boris Yeltsin’s government declare a ceasefire and eventually a peace treaty was signed. During this war it was estimated that 5,500 Russian soldiers died, between 3,500 and 7,500 Chechen militants, but the real loss was on the civilians, with between 30,000 and 100,000 deaths, around 200,000 injured and 500,000 displaced by the conflict. I wish I could tell you that we are the end of conflict with Chechnya but in 1999 the Second Chechen War was launched and the Russian Federation eventually seized control in 2009.
Now that we have an idea of what was happening in the country at the time, we get an idea of the danger that faces the three main characters. This isn’t necessarily a book about war, or the politics behind it (which basically comes down to oil) but rather the connections that link Havaa, Akhmed and Sonja together. The hardships each of them face only serves to build this beautiful story and flush out the character development. A glimpse of three different people struggling to survive this war torn land and debut author Anthony Marra managed to make this novel both compelling and emotional.
All three characters are so different you get so many perspectives within A Constellation of Vital Phenomena that will leave you pondering the novel well after you put it down. For me, I thought of Akhmed as a traditional Chechen Muslim, caught up with the past and tradition. While Sonja is the strong minded woman trying to smash through the glass ceiling, then you have Havaa an intelligent young girl that knows nothing else apart from war. You also have other characters that look at other ways the war effects the people, from abduction, smuggling, sex trafficking, amputation, punishment, torture and the list goes one. For a novel so focused on the character development and relationship of three characters, it’s impressive how it manages to deal with so many other issues.
I’ve always had a keen interest on Russian literature, plus my fascination with the motherland; so I knew I had to read this book. The collapse of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic is an interesting topic and the instability that ensued afterwards makes for a great backdrop. I will admit I didn’t know much about Chechen history so I had to bone up a little, unable to break a bad habit I was on the Wikipedia page for Chechnya just to get more information. I feel stupid for this but I didn’t realise the majority of Chechnya were Muslims; for some reason I thought they would have been Russian Orthodox. With the help of understanding the geographical location (which helped make more sense of their Islamic influences) as well as history, I really connected with this novel.
It wasn’t just understanding Chechnya or the character development I loved about A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, it was also exquisitely written. I was sucked in by the imagery and the beauty of the prose; I was surprised this was Anthony Marra’s first novel. I would have thought he had been doing this so well , the writing was wonderful and the whole novel was masterfully executed. I hope he writes a new novel soon because I know I’m eagerly waiting to see what he does next.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is sure to be one of those books that make my ‘Best of 2013’ list, I was very impressed with everything about it. For an American writer, his grasp on Chechnya seems authentic. I don’t know much about his life so I can’t judge, he might have spent some time in the country or has friends or family from there; I do know he wrote a prize winning short story called Chechnya, but that looks like the basis of this novel (based around Sonja, the hospital and her sister). Go out and pick up a copy of this novel, it is well worth reading.
In this bizarre and irrational world, Cincinnatus has been convicted and condemned to death by beheading for gnostical turpitude, an imaginary crime wIn this bizarre and irrational world, Cincinnatus has been convicted and condemned to death by beheading for gnostical turpitude, an imaginary crime with no definition. Cincinnatus spends his remaining days in prison where he is visited by the chimerical jailers, an executioner who masquerades as a prisoner, and his in-laws. When Cincinnatus is finally brought out to be executed, he simply wills his executioners out of existence: they disappear, along with the whole world they inhabit.
There is no denying that Invitation to a Beheading is a weird novel; often compared with Franz Kafka’s The Castle, it is important to know that Vladimir Nabokov had not read any German novels, let alone Kafka when writing this. The reason this is important is to avoid trying to compare the two novels; sure they have similarities but they are still also vastly different. Originally published as a serial, with the title Sovremennye Zapiski (Contemporary Notes), Nabokov has stated while Lolita holds his greatest affection, this novel holds his greatest esteem.
While people call this Kafkaesque, the impossible and dreamlike world reminds me more of Haruki Murakami’s style. From the very start the reader understands there is something not right about this world, this reminded me of Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I got the feeling that this wasn’t reality but a world constructed in Cincinnatus’ mind based on his fears, doubts, and insecurities. Cincinnatus’ enemy is the society he’s created and the people of that society act according to ridiculous rules that have been set. We never know what gnostical turpitude is and this will probably remind people of Kafka’s The Trial. Cincinnatus is rebelling against the construction of this reality and the rules the people of this society observe and perhaps this is what makes him a criminal.
Maybe gnostical turpitude is the crime of being different from all the other people in this reality. Maybe Cincinnatus is being oppress for his ideas and his nature. Maybe he is so different from everyone around him; he has an internal depth that the others lack. A lot like Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov has a way about his writing that just leaves you with so many questions that you need to think through, this whole reality and society leaves me perplexed. Though this is the point; life isn’t simple and being an outsider sometimes feels like you are Cincinnatus in a bizarre reality.
While this book primarily looks at society and oppression it also looks at human connection. Cincinnatus desires to connect with his wife Marthe, despite her unfaithfulness and lack of concern for him. The one thing he craves the most is to make a connection and she felt like the logical choice; also the fact that he loved her helped. He begs her to come alone and reveal her true self to him but there is always something that interferes with the communicating.
While this was a very odd book, Vladimir Nabokov is just a brilliant writer and that really makes up for the weirdness. Also the weird and bizarre act as motifs within the narrative and without the symbolism and meaning it would just be trippy book. Nabokov does a good job of weaving his messages and ideas while entertaining the reader in unexpected ways. Most people only ever read Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and I think that means they miss out on his brilliance, I hope to read more; currently on my To Be Read list is Mary, Pnin and Pale Fire. Are there any others I should add?
Walking the streets of Moscow with the rest of the population are the Others, possessors of supernatural powers capable of entering the Twilight, a shWalking the streets of Moscow with the rest of the population are the Others, possessors of supernatural powers capable of entering the Twilight, a shadowy parallel that few know exists. Each Other owes allegiance to the Light or Dark side, The Night Watch follows Anton, a young Other of the Light, who must patrol the streets protecting ordinary people from the vampires and magicians of the Dark.
I’ve been trying more and more fantasy (in my quest to be a literary explorer) and with the success of some recent urban fantasy and The Lions of Al-Rassan, I thought I might try some Russian fantasy. This novel revolves around a confrontation between two opposing supernatural groups; the Night Watch, an organisation that polices the actions of the Dark Others, and the Day Watch, who police the Light Others. Now to help wrap your head around the novel, I first must explain just what are the Others; these are humans that while they live into the real world they can step into the Twilight (the supernatural world). Why do the Watch need to help police these two sides? The balance between Light and Dark must be kept at all times.
I thought my love of Russian literature would help me through this novel but in the end there was no saving this one. While the premise was excellent and the whole battle between good and evil in a police procedural type urban fantasy novel can really work (see The Dirty Streets of Heaven) but not in this book. Straight off the bat the whole book took a very long time to build momentum, I think I was a quarter of the way through the book when I started to enjoy it then Bam! a completely new story. Turns out these are three completely independent stories and each one of them was a very slow burn that ended too quickly. My major problem with the entire book that I had to spend so much time building the story then finally getting sucked into the plot only to have it end too soon.
There were so many interesting elements worth exploring, I would have liked to see more of the Post-Soviet Russia that this book (like most modern Russian literature) hints at but regrettably never really explored. Russia has this amazingly rich history that has sparked so many great novels and authors and I truly think Sergei Lukyanenko could be one of them with some work. Like Dostoyevsky, Lukyanenko tries to inject the novel with philosophical ideas on morality and this could have really worked in his favour had he stuck with one story right through to the end.
Personally I think Sergei Lukyanenko did not do himself any favours by dividing this book into three short tales; none of them really stood out and I really think the first of the three had the most potential if he explored it in greater detail and developed a more complex plot. The tension between Anton and Kostya Saushkin could have made for some really interesting philosophical discussion on morality, evil and the effects it has on the world around you. Plus the sexual tension between the two didn’t hurt either but that is when this short story ended abruptly. I felt disappointed at the miss opportunity.
The Night Watch really didn’t work for me; there was so much it could have done but I feel it shot itself in the foot when anything complex started to surface. On the front of the cover was a blurb that said “J.K. Rowling Russian style” which feels like a marketing ploy that I doubt it did itself any favours; it does not make me want to read the Harry Potter series. The second book in the pentalogy of Watches is called Day Watch which intrigues me but because it is broken into little stories as well, I think I will give it a miss. The Night Watch has left me with the need to explore some more of Sergei Lukyanenko’s novels but this is his most recent series, which makes me worry that he has not perfected his craft.
Welcome to new Russia, where the Russian Empire has been restored back to the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible. Corporal punishment is back and thWelcome to new Russia, where the Russian Empire has been restored back to the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible. Corporal punishment is back and the monarchy is divided once again, but this is the future, the not so distant future for the Russian empire, or is it? Day of the Oprichnik follows a government henchman, an Oprichnik, through a day of grotesque event.
Day of the Oprichnik is a thought provoking Science Fiction novel of the worst possible Russia imagined. But while the book is dark, it also is hilarious and then it has this wonderfully satirical nature about it. Komiaga is the narrator of this gem, an anti-hero and one of the Tsar’s most devoted henchmen. While the humour and satire throughout this book is grotesque, this book is a perfect example of great contemporary Russian literature as well as a political critique.
I will admit I like these types of modern Russian Science Fiction novels, like Super Sad True Love Story, you have this wonderful dystopian backdrop as well as the high tech gadgets like the “mobilov” and then you use this to create delightfully thought provoking plot riddled with satirical elements. These witty and intelligently written books are what I live for.
Komiaga is one of the elites, enforcing the laws of the land, helping the Czar’s to rule with an iron fist for the sake of the motherland and the Russian Orthodox Church. This is my first Vladimir Sorokin novel and I would like to compare this novel to one of Philip K. Dick’s (Man in the High Castle to be exact); there is this wonderfully crafted story and you have these philosophical and political ideas that stick with you well after you have finished the book.
The Telegraph named this book one of the best for 2011 and the New York Review called Sorokin “[the] only real prose writer, and resident genius” of late-Soviet fiction”, just to give you an idea of what to expect. Day of the Oprichnik is deliciously complex, full of garish science fiction and hallucinogenic fish. Komiaga’s day might not be a typical one but it’s full of executions, parties, meetings, oracles, and even the Czarina.
I loved every moment of Day of the Oprichnik, even the moments that made me think “WTF” and for all of the people that have read this book, I want to say one word that will mean something to you but not the others, the word that the person who recommended this book to me said when I finished. That work is “caterpillar”. For everyone else; read the book, enjoy the satire, black humour and Science Fiction elements of this book and also find out what I mean.
I’m going to be honest; I have no idea how to review about like The Master and Margarita. I was looking forward to reading another Russian classic butI’m going to be honest; I have no idea how to review about like The Master and Margarita. I was looking forward to reading another Russian classic but I don’t think anyone can be fully prepared for a book like this. The whole book is based around a visit by the Devil to two passionately atheistic Russians. While this is an overly simplified synopsis it really is basis of the entire book; if I really want to write a fully detailed overview of this book it would include a black cat, an assassin, a naked witch, Jesus and Pontius Pilate in one very bizarre novel. I read this book about a week ago but I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, there is a lot going on within the book to really be able to give this a review that would give it justice.
To simplify this book I’m going to break down the book into three different elements; the Professor’s talk with the Berlioz and Bezdomny, the section involving the Master and his lover Margarita and lastly the novel about Pontius Pilate. At first glance all these sections may seems like they don’t link together, but when the Professor or the devil challenges the two’s concepts of atheism the conversation leads to the book about Pilate which happens to be a novel written by the Master and the book comes together in a weird, philosophical novel with shades of slapstick comedy.
I tend to write short reviews because I don’t want to spoil novels and want to write easy, accessible reviews; so if I write anything more about the plot I would have to read a lot, too much for a short review so I’m going to stop talking about the book and start talking about my opinions of it. While reading this novel I was completely absorbed in the writing, but this meant I continued reading without stopping to really think about the book. In the end my head was swimming with so many thoughts of this book I wasn’t sure how I felt. Now that I’ve sorted my thoughts all I really can say it’s one of those books you just have to read to fully understand the effect of it.
While it took me a while to fully sort my thoughts of this book, I really did enjoy it. It’s one of those books like Slaughterhouse-Five where you can’t really rate or review it until you have had a good long think about all the concepts this book is trying to get across. I highly recommend experiencing this novel; it is like nothing I’ve ever read before. The wacky nature of this book will keep you reading but the philosophical ideas will help you enjoy this novel. I don’t think any review will ever do justice to this classic; especially not mine so my only advised and the only thing you really need to know about this book is ‘Just read it.’ ...more
While I often find it hard to review a classic novel because we already know it’s stood the test of time, it is even harder to review one that has beeWhile I often find it hard to review a classic novel because we already know it’s stood the test of time, it is even harder to review one that has been translated into English as well. Some of the beauty in the writing could have been lost in the translation and because there is so many different translations out there, how do you choose which one to read. This version of Crime and Punishment was translated by David McDuff and I must admit I didn’t really notice anything wrong with the translation at all. It was only upon reflecting that I realised that something could have been lost in the translation.
I have to admit I really love Russian literature and Crime and Punishment will be the front runner for my favourite Russian piece of literature. Raskolnikov is a conflicted character; he is showing a lot of interest in the classes and thinking he is of a higher class than others believes he has the right to commit murder. Contrary to the title, this novel doesn’t really focus on the crime or the punishment but rather the inner turmoil of Raskolnikov as well as the impact on his intellect and emotions. It is not until the very end that the sense of guilt overwhelms him and he confesses and ends his alienation.
Despite the rest of the characters in this book, the bulk of this novel plays out in the mind of Raskolnikov. Fyodor Dostoyevsky must have been a very skilled writer to be able to get into the mindset of such a deranged mind. While the murder of two people is definitely a crime, I think the moral that comes across in this book is that the biggest crime was that Raskolnikov placed himself above his fellow man. I wonder if Dostoyevsky was trying to also show the reader the dangers of rationalism and maybe utilitarianism.
I’m really surprised how fast I got through this book and the fact that I really enjoyed this book even though I was warned time and time again that this was a very difficult book and not to expect to enjoy it. I’m a huge fan of a book that deals with the inner turmoil of a person especially in a macabre way. It reminded me so much of Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson and makes me wonder if books like the Dexter series by Jeff Lindsey were influenced by this classic novel. I have a feeling that I will be thinking about this book for a long time and might have to reread it one day.
Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote his seminal dystopian novel We (1921) based on his personal experiences during the two Russian revolutions (1905 and 1917) andYevgeny Zamyatin wrote his seminal dystopian novel We (1921) based on his personal experiences during the two Russian revolutions (1905 and 1917) and the first World War. The book ended influencing dystopian authors like Aldous Huxley and George Orwell. This book not only influenced the dystopian genre but could also be the influence towards the post-apocalyptic genre as this was set in a world where all was wiped out but “0.2% of the earth's population”. The book is set in ‘One State’ which has been organised to be a workers' paradise; everything has to work like clockwork and everything is based on logic and mathematics. This society is heavily surveillanced, has martial law and is heavily censored; a totalitarian world.
The protagonist, D-503, is an engineer who begins writing a journal (much like in 1984) to document Integral, the spaceship being built to invade other planets. D-503 is under constant surveillance by the Bureau of Guardians (the secret police) as is everyone else. He is assigned a lover O-90, but ends up having an uncontrollable attraction to I-330. This leads to nightmares and furthermore into what could be considered a mental illness. I-330 reveals to D-503 a world that was previously unknown to him. Will he hang onto hope or will reason get the better of him?
We was an impressive novel; not only with the themes that it explores but also with the technology and the simple fact that it was years and years ahead of its time. While some say We was released in 1920 and others 1921, there is no denying that, because of the subject matter, this was an impressive piece of literature. If it wasn’t for this book we may never of been able to enjoy Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) or even Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano (1952). By today’s standards this book would be overlooked but something innovative and so complex to be written so long ago makes this worth a read. ...more
As most of you know, I really enjoy Russian literature and Notes from Underground is my first attempt at reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I found it a greaAs most of you know, I really enjoy Russian literature and Notes from Underground is my first attempt at reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I found it a great place to start; it wasn’t very long, it was fairly easy to read and it was still as beautifully written as all the other Russian novels I’ve read. Notes from Underground is the story of a bitter isolated man (known to the world as the underground man) and his monolog about life and the problems with western philosophy. Considered by many as the first real existentialist novel, Notes from Underground is an interesting read; not for everyone but worth it, if you are interested in existentialist or philosophy. ...more
Anna Karenina is a hard book to review, yes it is a brick of a book and you need a lot of patients to get through it all, but it really is spectacularAnna Karenina is a hard book to review, yes it is a brick of a book and you need a lot of patients to get through it all, but it really is spectacular story. Sure nothing really happens in the story but the characters are just so well written you don’t care if the plot isn’t progressing quickly enough for your liking. The story is fully of love, infidelity, a battle of classes and the fading out of an old society to make room for modern society. You can really feel the characters coming to terms with a new way of thinking while still wondering if they should revert back to the proper conduct of an old society’s upper-class citizen. If you have the patients and love a story with well written characters this book is well worth reading, it simply is a masterpiece. ...more
Lolita is the highly controversial novel of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged literature professor and his obsession with twelve year-old Dolores Haze. OLolita is the highly controversial novel of Humbert Humbert, a middle-aged literature professor and his obsession with twelve year-old Dolores Haze. Of whom he becomes a step father as well as being sexually involved. Considered one of the most controversial novels of the twentieth century, Lolita is known not just for the disturbing nature but for the unreliable narration and sophisticated writing style.
Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpiece, Lolita, is one of those books that are worth reading even if it makes you very uncomfortable. The protagonist is the villain who tries so hard to gain the readers sympathy through his sincerity and melancholy. But as the story progress you can even see that he has lost of sympathy for himself and starts referring to himself as maniac who deprived Dolores of her childhood. The novel provides a remarkable perspective into the mind of a man you just want to hate and I will admit it can be a little exciting to watch him go through hell. Nabokov writes a hated character in the hope to knock him around and give him some humility and the reader is left wondering if he will learn from his mistakes.
This has often been described as an erotic novel, even the Great Soviet Encyclopedia called Lolita “an experiment in combining an erotic novel with an instructive novel of manners”. Personally I think of this book as a satirical tragedy with elements of eroticism and remorse. The narrator spends a fair chunk of the book begging the reader to understand that he is not proud of his actions and he is often stricken with guilt at the awareness of robbing Lolita of her childhood. But there is a case to be made at the fact that this is just an exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child but this can be problematic and not something I wish to go into great deal about.
The novel as a whole is a very one sided argument, we know how Humbert feels about the entire situation; we hear this to a very sickening degree. He has remorse but his obsession keeps him from ever changing, but one has to wonder what was really going through the mind of Dolores. I have to wonder how she sees the situation or even what she was thinking or feeling throughout the novel. We, as readers, can only surmise since we are forced to absorb Humbert’s feelings.
It is interesting to point out just how two dimensional all the characters are; all except himself and Lolita, which he goes into great detail. It reminds me of life; people tend to describe each other in a two dimensional manner unless we are obsessed with or interested in the person. This technique of writing really added to the realistic feeling of this book.
Lolita was a really awkward and sickening novel to read, there aren’t many books out there that have made me sick to my stomach. Lolita pulls off that feeling that horror novels try to achieve yet often get wrong – that feeling of uneasiness for the reader. This is my second read of this novel, so I knew what to expect and I was able to look past the controversial elements and focus on what this book can offer to the literary world.
Apart from the elements of oppression and an authority figure trying to assert their dominance this book explores tragicomedy, unreliable narration, irony and because Vladimir Nabokov is a Russian it could be a metaphor for totalitarianism. There are many themes you can explore within the novel but the one that will stick in most people’s minds is the lasting damage created by child sexual abuse.
Interestingly enough Vladimir Nabokov is a surrealist often linked to Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Kafka which make you wonder about some of the elements of this book even more. With a love of intricate word play and synesthetic detail Lolita turns into a wry observation of western culture. The novel is full of cleaver word play, double entendres, multilingual puns and in the end when you boil done to why people love it, it is just a beautifully written novel.
You may not enjoy reading this book but you might enjoy having read it. I have to admit that I enjoyed this book more the second time around; there is great beauty to be found in this book and while content makes this book difficult to get through it is well worth the effort. I remember one of my first blog posts on literature was called “What Would You Read in an Introduction to Fiction Course” where I listed the books I’d include if I was to create an introduction to Fiction course and Lolita was one of my choices. Having now reread this book, it just validates my choice even more, there is so much to explore in this book that it has been put back on my list of books to reread.