The record of Russian literature has led to a pattern that involves breaking theme, genre, and style. The significant divides in Russian literature usually reflected political shifts occurring in the world at large.
These divisions were extreme and transpired at a fast rate, which has made Russian literature very interesting and unique. Many of us know classic Russian novels by name, like War and Peace, or Crime and Punishment.
While these works will continue to stand the test of time, modern Russian writers deserve more attention as their works continue to go against the norm today.
Themes like science, romance, and politics are used in captivating plots with unforgettable characters.
Russian literature is definitely worth reading, so to get you started, we’ve gathered a list of 10 of the best Russian novels that will stay with you well after you read them.
Whether you opt for a traditional literary work that has been critically acclaimed over the years or a contemporary novel with a modern feel and an adventurous plot, you’re sure to find a Russian novel that suits your taste below.
10 Russian Novels That Will Change Your Life
The Brothers Karamazov By Fyodor Dostoevsky
The book goes into the different perspectives of a lewd father and three brothers: the hedonistic Dmitry, the secluded Alyosha, and the intelligent Ivan.
The murder of the father and its ensuing investigation turns into the main focus of the last part of the novel. This novel seems like a simple murder mystery at first, but it ends up becoming a gripping exploration of the psyche.
Dostoevsky depicts notions of life through themes of faith, rivalry, and evil. You may see yourself in not just one, but many of the characters, as they are real, flawed, and incredibly human.
- Readable translation: Simple to understand without losing the essence of Russian literature
- Fantastic characters: Realistic characters that are easy to identify with
- Expressive writing: Bold imagery and moving prose that isn’t overdone or too theatrical
- At 880 pages long, it may be quite lengthy for beginner readers just starting with Russian literature
In The First Circle By Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
This story depicts the harsh reality of a totalitarian system. It looks at prisoners that are subject to psychological torture, uncertain as to what their future holds.
Family letters are destroyed, meals are withheld, and men are taken in the cover of night without a trace. Solzhenitsyn’s writing uncovers how the human spirit can be destroyed when the things we take for granted are taken away.
Even though the prisoners are kept behind walls and aren’t allowed to communicate, these effects start to influence their families.
The themes may be depressing, but In The First Circle also highlights the importance of freedom and how we should remember its significance throughout life.
- Complex, yet accessible: The story is lengthy and informative but isn’t difficult to understand
- Engaging characters: Representational characters are never boring, even during philosophical debates
- Depicts political life: Prisoners’ accounts vividly give us an insight into Stalin’s Russia
- With 60 significant characters, you may keep flipping back through the pages to remind yourself of key events
The Time Of Women By Elena Chizhova
This compelling tale gives us a feminine perspective of life in Soviet Russia. Three elderly women are raising Sofia, the illegitimate child of Antonina, a factory worker who lives in the women’s flat.
The ‘grannies’ tell stories about their past to young Sofia, giving an insight into Russia’s past. Chizhove vividly depicts hunger, cold, and death in several environments, like the factory, church, and Sofia’s nursery.
Though the stories are grim, there is an element of hope in that Sofia will have choices in her future, and will remember the women with love and appreciation.
- Captures the atmosphere: Vividly depicts the scene and time of the Soviet era
- Feminine voice: Interesting to see a Russian female perspective
- Unique narration: Unusual prose style which is interesting to read
- Switches between narrative voice a lot, so it isn’t a simple read
The Unwomanly Face Of War By Svetlana Alexievich
War’s Unwomanly Face depicts young women and girls in the Soviet Union. They dreamt of becoming engineers, wives, and mothers, but turned into soldiers in 1941.
First-person records show how hard it was for women to speak about their wartime experiences. Even if women cut their hair and wore the same trousers as men, they weren’t taken seriously until much later.
The book also shows the importance of human moments around this time, like a wedding dress formed out of bandages or dancing again after wearing boots that were too large.
Instead of depicting war as a character-forming epidemic, Alexievich’s writing uncovers the horrors of the time in amazing detail.
- Incredibly moving: First-person accounts explore the reality of the Soviet era in heartbreaking detail
- Displays feminine perspective: Highlights how women’s wartime experiences were different from men
- The novel contains a lot of stories, so it can be difficult to get ‘stuck into’ the book as a whole
The Funeral Party By Lyudmila Ulitskaya
This moving story from one of Russia’s significant contemporary novelists explores the idea of charisma, identity, and relationships.
The book looks into the unique connections between several Russian émigrés in New York as they are at Alik’s funeral, an unsuccessful, but a well-loved painter.
Though set in a small Manhattan apartment, the story investigates the crux of humanity in a traditionally Russian manner – how should we live and how should we die?
- Complex, but simple story: Tackles several themes in an easy-to-read manner
- Range of characters: Ulitskaya depicts how several different people can become connected around one man
- Short novel: Just 160 pages long, very easy to read
- Contains a lot of different perspectives in a small number of pages. Switching between the various points of view may make the book difficult to follow
War And Peace By Leo Tolstoy
Many claim that this is the best story ever written. War and Peace looks at five noble families living at the start of the 19th century, during Russia’s battle with Napoleon.
The book is a war story, family tale, and romantic tale all in one, though its heart explores how humans can create a life in a world ravaged by war, political change, and religious disorder.
Many years after it was written, Tolstoy’s novel investigates the delight of living and the human experience, making it a classic in the modern era.
- Very entertaining: The story will keep you engaged for many hours
- Thought-out characters: Interactions between the ensemble cast bring this story to life
- The 19th-century novel contains lots of unbridled sexism
- All the main characters are wealthy, so the reader doesn’t see what life is like for poorer citizens
Life And Fate By Vasily Grossman
This gripping story looks at Soviet society through the eyes of one family, the Shaposhnikovs. In the face of the approaching battle of Stalingrad, the family needs to figure out what their fate holds in a society ravaged by war and autocracy.
This exploration of Soviet society was confiscated by the KGB and wasn’t published until 1980 when it was brought into the West. Since its publication, Grossman’s work has continually been hailed as a work of art.
- Gripping narration: Switches between subplots in an engaging way, which doesn’t lose interest
- Vivid prose: Depicts the horrors of a totalitarian regime in a graphic, easy-to-visualize manner
- The novel is 896 pages long and involves a big cast of characters, so some may find it harder to read
The Master & Margarita By Mikhail Bulgakov
In the 1930s, Moscow has been occupied by individuals who have forsaken ethics and morality. As a cryptic stranger arrives in the city, along with unusual companions that include a fanged fighter and a large talking cat, everything falls apart.
The incomprehensible events that occur in the city also affect the Master, a writer who has been wrecked by Soviet oppression, and his darling Margarita.
The couple’s ventures uncover a tale that started in historical Jerusalem two thousand years ago, though its solution will affect their destiny. Bulgakov depicts how easy it is for humans to become avid and distrustful, unable to see or believe reality for what it is.
- Blends fantasy and reality: Unique setting and characters
- Intriguing prose: Satirical depiction of the Stalinist regime is enthralling without being long-winded
- The story may not interest readers that aren’t interested in surrealist works
Baba Dunja’s Last Love By Alina Bronsky
Despite warnings about radiation levels in her town, the elderly Baba Dunja is determined to go back home, close to where the events of Chernobyl transpired. Though she was the first to arrive, she lives in the town with a few others.
Living off of distorted fruits and other provisions they can come up with, Baba Dunja and the others have created an unusual utopia. She is treated like the informal leader of their isolated, radiative home.
Bronsky’s unique story uncovers how everyone’s vision of paradise is different from the next, as familiarity may be all someone ever desires.
- Strong female protagonist: Interesting view through a practical, older woman’s eyes
- Brilliant narration: Humorous, yet moving depiction of humanity
- Easy to read: Only 192 pages long, so it’s easy to work through
- The nature of the story may resonate more with older readers compared to younger ones
Day Of The Oprichnik By Vladimir Sorokin
In a new New Russia, an oppressive regime and advanced technology reign supreme.The story follows the oprichnik, Andrei Komiaga. He is the monarch’s dependable courtier and one of the most dreaded men in the country.
In just one day, Andrei will take part in horrific executions, parties, and meetings with clairvoyants. He will plunder and loot, while being touched by songs of his native land, determined to remove any threats to his beloved nation’s principles.
Sorokin’s depiction of a worrisome empire is a fabulous satirical work that analyzes a nation in crisis.
- 208 pages long: Short novel that isn’t difficult to read
- Vivid prose: Bold descriptive style that effectively depicts a ravaged society
- The novel does contain graphic depictions of violence which some readers may want to avoid
Buyer’s Guide – Things To Know Before Reading Russian Novels
Russian literature can seem intimidating, so if you haven’t read it before, you may be put off by the thought of lengthy, draining, or boring novels. The truth is vastly different, as Russian novels are some of the most gripping tales you’ll ever read.
Russian authors can give you an amazing insight into themes like love, betrayal, despair, and salvation, as well as a look into the elusiveness of the Russian soul. Here are some things to know before you start reading Russian literature:
Forget What You Know
Many Russian novels, particularly classics, have been critiqued throughout history. Unfortunately, this has also led to several stereotypes, rumors, and opinions from others regarding these stories.
It’s important to forget these and what you think you know about Russian literature, as this can prevent you from enjoying the story being told. Try to read these books with an open mind, the same way you would with other novels.
These stories aren’t a mile away from your favorite contemporary novels, but you need to give them a chance before you read them.
Think About Your Favorite Genre
There’s more chance you’ll stick with Russian literature if you love the first few books that you read, so try and find one that’s related to a genre that you already love.
For instance, if you like comedic works that are lighthearted and fun, go for works by Bulgakov. If you prefer gripping crime novels or well-known classics, Crime and Punishment may be more up your street.
Going against your literary preferences will only discourage you from enjoying Russian novels to their fullest. Do your research and find a story that you’ll find interesting. You may be shocked at how much previous novels resemble modern tales of today!
Unless you’re fluent in Russian, you’ll have to pick up a translated version of the novels you want to read. If you’ve tried a Russian classic, like Crime and Punishment, and found it hard to read, you should try looking for a different translation.
We all have various reading preferences, styles, and patience levels. If you’re just getting into Russian novels, but don’t want to read a particularly difficult novel, Pevear and Volokhonsky translations may be more to your taste.
If you’d prefer a copy that closely resembles the language, you may find Constance Garnett’s copies more engaging. If you’re struggling to get stuck into a Russian novel, don’t be discouraged.
Try a different translator and see if it helps. There are also Russian language starter versions available. These have the original text alongside a simpler version for people studying Russian.
We hope you enjoy some of these gripping Russian novels! Whether you’re into the classics or would prefer a more modern story, you’re sure to find a book that suits your literary tastes above.
If you haven’t tried Russian literature before, remember to keep an open mind while you read. You may just find a new favorite book!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Russian Literature Worth Reading?
Russian literature has given the world content that is incredibly rich and entertaining. Russian authors often comment on social, religious, social, and ethical debates through their work, which helps readers understand the world at large.
How Many Words Do You Need To Know To Be Fluent In Russian?
Knowing more than 10,000 words in any language would classify someone as a fluent speaker. Participation in basic conversations involves knowing between 1,000 and 3,000 words.
Who Is The Greatest Russian Novelist?
Leo Tolstoy is often regarded as one of the greatest writers in history. Works like War and Peace, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, and Anna Karenina have been critically acclaimed throughout history.