Good Minds Suggest: Elizabeth Strout's Favorite Russian Novels

Posted by Goodreads on April 1, 2017

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In Anything Is Possible, the author of My Name Is Lucy Barton turns her attention to the characters Lucy left behind in her past, imagining what has become of their lives in Amgash, Illinois. Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout creates a cast of small-town characters who cope with love and loss, exploring the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others.

For Strout there is no better master of the human heart than the great Russian writers. She credits the Russian novelists with teaching her how to write. "It has always seemed to me they know everything about everything. I've sometimes thought all a person needs to know about life are in the works of the Russians and Shakespeare," Strout says. Here are some of her favorite Russian works.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
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"Oh, I loved this book the first time I read it. The second time was even better. Most people tend to love the character Prince Andrei, and I did, too. But Pierre stole my heart, the way he made friends with the lice while he was in prison…and the ending!"

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
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"It's all here. Poor Anna K., and everyone else, really. She was born in a time and place in history, and that determined her life—as such things determine all our lives—as much as her actions did."

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
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"This novel is so true psychologically to me; although it speaks of nihilism and the chasm separating the generations, I have always found it to be just the way things are—so often—between fathers and sons."

Selected Stories by Anton Chekhov
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"Just one brilliant story after another. This is a man who changed the way storytelling was told, and he does it by showing us the simple and ever-so-complicated human heart, the actions of people who have no idea why or what they are doing."

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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"Anyone who feels guilty about anything should read this book, which would mean most of us. The astute understanding Dostoyevsky has of the psychology of Raskolnikov is what makes this book so compelling."

Want more book recommendations from authors? Check out our Good Minds Suggest series.

Comments Showing 1-20 of 20 (20 new)

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message 1: by Natalie (new)

Natalie K Yay! As an ardent Russophile, I'm so glad to see Russian novelists getting some admiration on here. Молодец!

message 2: by Jeri (new)

Jeri Chase Kharasho! Thanks for showcasing these unforgettable books and authors. Spacibo.

message 3: by Shirley (new)

Shirley Pierre. Yes. For me he is the heart of War and Peace. My favorite scene is the threshing scene.

My favorite Russian book is Anna Karenina. I read it while wintering in Florida and all the way back to Michigan I told my husband the entire story to keep him awake while he drove the car. I am curious to read your book after hearing that you learned from the Russian authors.

message 4: by Barry (new)

Barry Fay Strange that Brothers Karamazov isn´t included. It best captures the brawling Russian heart.

message 5: by Dragana (new)

Dragana T This is great list but I want to add some unforgettable Russian novels and stories too, such as Village Evenings Near Dikanka, Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol, Oblomov and Abyss by Ivan Goncharov. Yes, I agree that Brothers Karamayov is masterpiece but my favorite novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky is The Idiot. All those books are timeless and always contemporary because they are about human soul. It is not just about russian heart, but about all of us.

message 6: by Ann (new)

Ann Roberts Yes, the great Russian classics taught me how to write too - and Tolstoy in particular taught me a lot about life at a time when I was struggling to understand.

Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* Intriguing list. I have read very, very little of Russian Literature but that definitely should change.

message 8: by Tethysnz (new)

Tethysnz A very banal list. What about Dead Souls or The Master and Margarita?

message 9: by Julia (new)

Julia Braverman Tethysnz wrote: "A very banal list. What about Dead Souls or The Master and Margarita?"

Good thought. Master and Margarita is one of my all time favourites. Though all of these books are in scool program, not much native russians read them. let alone the foreign readers :)

message 10: by Seamus (new)

Seamus Gallen Tethysnz wrote: "A very banal list. What about Dead Souls or The Master and Margarita?"

It's a very good list. If you were going to read only five Russian novels, these five would be as good as any. It doesn't stop anyone from reading others if they so wish.

message 11: by Susan (new)

Susan I dearly love Mikhail Sholokhov's books about the Don Cossacks pre-revolution, revolutionary period and post-revolution!!!

message 12: by Rocío (new)

Rocío Aguilera I've read all of your recommendations. I call War and Peace The Russian Iliad. It seems we have the same taste

message 13: by Toula (last edited Apr 07, 2017 10:02PM) (new)

Toula Colovos I am ELATED to see that so many people love Russian Literature!
I have loved these books since I was very young, I find them sensitive, imaginative extremely human --REAL MASTERPIECES.
I think they were able to feel and capture the human existence, the feelings and hopes, they showed real concerns for social problems whether it was War and Peace, Poverty, Family Relationships, Love and Hate.

One book I would l like to see mentioned here, would be the Resurrection by Tolstoy This is one of my favorites with War and Peace, The Idiot, Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, following as close seconds!

Again so happy to read your emails and realize that I was wrong about the thoughts I had that Russian Literature was forgotten and neglected!!!!! Thank you you have given me a lot of joy!

message 14: by Irene (new)

Irene Williams I am surprised that Solzenhitzn wasn't mentioned. A contemporary and brilliant writer, I'd suggest One Day In The Life of Ivan Denosovich (sp), The Gulag Archaepelogo portraying the lives of those sent to Siberia during the Stalinist era.

message 15: by Irene (new)

Irene Williams Read short story Lulu by Turgenev that will wring your heart.
It continues to amaze how Russia produced such brilliant writers, composers and ballets with such a dark history.

message 16: by Patrick (new)

Patrick C Barry wrote: "Strange that Brothers Karamazov isn´t included. It best captures the brawling Russian heart."

Wonderful book.

message 17: by Olga (last edited Apr 09, 2017 02:27PM) (new)

Olga Really nice selection. But I would have also included Dark Avenues by Ivan Bunin, which might tell a lot about the so-called Russian soul. At the same, time brilliant sample of romantic literature. Without it the list seems a little incomplete.

message 18: by Marykate (new)

Marykate And Boris Akunin ???

message 19: by Priscilla (new)

Priscilla Bennett What a great list! Anton Chekhov's Stories moved me among others.
Thank you,

message 20: by Dulce (last edited Nov 01, 2017 11:53PM) (new)

Dulce Gomes Je vous propose la lecture de Maximo Gorki: "Enfance" ou " Mère".
J'ai lu les classiques russes quand j'était jeune et ils ont vraiment changer ma façon d' envisager le monde et la vie.

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