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Five Modern Russian Books You Should Read

Five Modern Russian Books You Should Read

People all over the world know about and love Russian literature. Few, if any, people who have never heard of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, or Chekhov. However, readers know much less about modern Russian books. Today we will try to change this situation to the better and tell you about five poplar modern Russian writers and their books.

Vladimir Sorokin

Vladimir Sorokin is one of the most popular writers in modern Russia, laureate of numerous Russian and international prizes, one of the most distinguished representatives of conceptualism and Socialist art in Russian literature.

Vladimir Sorokin: Day of the Oprichnik

Day of the Oprichnik

Day of the Oprichnik  is a dystopian novel  full of political satire that shows what, in the author’s opinion, Russia might be like in 2027.

By that time, the monarchy will have been restored in Russia; a formidable wall separates the country from western states; natural resources and transit of goods from China to Europe are the main country’s sources of income.  A reader has an opportunity to watch one day from the life of Andrey Komyaga, a state official and oprichnik. His days are full of “typical” for a representative of the law enforcement agencies routine: political repressions, tortures and massacre, followed by get-togethers in a banya and gala dinners.

Sorokin demonstrates into what the society can turn under the policy of isolationism and protectionism, and he also speaks about the place of a person within this kind of system.

Viktor Pelevin

Pelevin is, perhaps, one of the most famous and ambiguous modern Russian writers, whose books always provoke discussions. In the 1990s Viktor Pelevin gained a reputation of one of the most brilliant young writers. His innovative prose managed to attract readers at various levels and preferences both in Russia and abroad. Pelevin’s books are available in a lot of European languages.

Viktor Pelevin: Chapayev and Void

Chapayev and Void (Chapayev and Pustota) is known in the US as “Buddha’s Little Finger” and in the UK as “Clay Machine Gun”

 

“Chapayev and Void” is Pelevin’s third novel and it is one of the most famous of his books. It has been republished in Russia more than 20 times.

The novel describes two period of time: Russia in the period 1918-1919 and in the middle of 1990s. Pyotr Pustota (English: Pyotr Voyd) is a poet who flees from St Petersburg security services to Moscow, but, happy go lucky, he becomes a Soviet commissar and meets a rather strange man, an army commander Vasily Chapayev. They spend their time together fighting in the Civil war, drinking samogon, taking drugs and talking about meaning of life and essence of existence.

Every night Pyotr has nightmares being locked in a psychiatric clinic in Moscow in the 1990s as he thinks he is a poet from the time of the Revolution. In the clinic he shares a ward with three other men each with his own form of fake identity.  It remains unclear until the end of the book which of Pyotr’s identities is real, and if there is such a thing as a real identity at all.

P.S. Vasily Chapayev is a real historic personality, Russian revolutionary, and the Civil War participant.  In the second half of the 20th century there was a novel written about him which was later made into a film. Both the book and the film has very little to do with reality and are overloaded with ideology and propaganda.  However, Chapayev and other characters of the book have become features of numerous jokes and in this way they became part of Russian culture.

Zakhar Prilepin

Zakhar Prilepin is a vivid example of the fact that one should separate the artist’s life from his work.  Prilepin is a National Bolshevik, a strong opponent of liberalism, and a romantic. Many people consider him as a marginal. Prilepin manages to reveal and condemn problems within a society, at the same time not imposing his viewpoint.  Prilepin is a laureate of numerous prizes, one of the most talented modern authors.  He makes people talk about his books as well as his life.

Zakhar Prilepin: Sankya

Sankya

Sasha Tishin (his Granma calls him Sankya) is atypical representative of the new generation of Russians that got stuck in between the epochs. Sasha does not really remember the Soviet Union but he does not believe in the opportunity to live in a modern corrupted Russia either.

Being torn between a dying out village of his youth and the capital city which appears stuffy and deceitful, Sankya finds solace joining an extremist group that wants to build a better Russia by completely destroying the old one. Sasha’s character, as well as the characters of his friends, is an amalgam of youth maximalism and rationalism which he acquires as he gets older, cruelty and tenderness, naivety and  thoughtfulness, at the background of permanents fights with the police and understanding that a protest movement has become the power that oppresses and destroys the willpower of its participants.

Prilepin managed to understand and show a whole snapshot of the  Russian young people who, on the one hand, have grown up left to themselves, but, on the other hand, they are the people who are very soon going to form the base of the society.

Tatyana Tolstaya

Tatyana Tolstaya is a granddaughter of a famous Soviet Russian writer Alexei Tolstoy. She started her literary career at the beginning of the 1980s, although she became really famous in the 2000s.  Apart from being a writer, she is also a publicist and essayist.

Tatyana Tolstaya: The Slynx (Kys)

The Slynx (Kys)

The novel Kys has been published more than 20 times. It was awarded several prestigious awards. This is a dystopian novel full of irony and sarcasm which is set in post-apocalyptic Russia after the nuclear attack.

Benedikt, the main character, is being brought up by those who are called “previous” and who were born before the Explosion and preserve the remains of the old culture.  All their attempts to educate him fail. Benedikt is afraid of it, and does not actually want it. He prefers having a simple life and enjoying his quite favorable, although not high, position within the society.

The world in the novel “Kys” is full of ambiguity and mutual exclusions.  It combines the general degradation and the echo of great literature of the past, sincere attempts to preserve human attitude on the background of cruel attitude towards your neighbours who are less successful in life; the great power of art and its helplessness are stated.  In habitual, or even trivial for the world literature decorations, Tosltaya looks inside a person, into the space where the unknown creature called Kys exists. Kys impersonates the fear towards the unknown and incomprehensible.

Boris Akunin

Boris Akunin (real name Grigol Chkhartishvili) is one of the most popular Russian authors, translator and specialist in Japanese culture. Grigol Chkhartishvili ventured  in various genres, and, as a rule, each new experiment was published under a new pseudonym. We would say that a series of the detective novels about Erast Fandorin are the most popular.

Boris Akunin: Erast Fandorin

Erast Fandorin is an impersonation of a Russian aristocrat on the 19th century: he is well-educated, honest, dignified and always true to his principles. He is a talented detective and he is charged with investigations of various kinds of crimes. So, Boris Akunin writes in various detective genres.

The Fandorin novels have nothing to do with both history and politics. Probably, that’s the main reason of their popularity with readers. Every book is a decent plot for a spy movie: nontrivial, gripping, full of mysteries and unexpected twists.

Boris Akunin has written several dozens of books of various formats and genres about Erast Fandorin. In his novels the author does not intend to debate on philosophical issues or go to deep into speculations on a person or society.  They are interesting books of high quality which would be enjoyed by both criminal story loves and those who simply want to read an exciting and thrilling story.

 

These are the five books we recommend everyone who is interested in literature to read. It’s, of course, only a small part of modern Russian literature. Our aim was not to make up a rating or identify the best writer. We wanted to tell you about the books that have already become a part of the history of Russian literature, and they have been translated into English.

 

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