Around this time last year I started reading Orlando Figes’ ‘A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891-1924’. In many ways it was an unexpected read, after all, I’m normally pretty faithful to fiction. On the other hand, I’ve been a fan of Russian literature for years and it did make sense to finally learn something about the period in which it was written. Twelve months of wonderful reading later, and it is time to wrap up an incredibly enjoyable project. Thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way, from suggesting books to putting up with my own increasingly obscure recommendations. As predicted, it’s been a great reading year!
Best new discoveries
1. ‘Oblomov’ by Gonachrov. A must-read for anyone who sometimes would rather just stay in bed in the morning.
2. ‘The Golovlyov Family’ by Saltykov-Shchedrin. A depiction of the most evil family in Russian literature, and done so well!
3. Short stories by Andreyev. These tales are mystical and powerful, they truly changed by expectations for Russian literature and raised the bar significantly.
4. Teffi. She’s witty, intelligent and cosmopolitan. Exactly my kind of writer and a delight to discover.
5. Krzhizhanovsky. Reading Krzhizhanovsky is like taking part in an important battle against censorship. Now finally published, his stories are funny, profound, philosophical and fully capture what it is to love reading.
1. ‘A Hero of Our Time’ by Lermontov. This book didn’t mean much to me the first time round. Now, seeing it in context and discovering how important it was to the writers who followed, I fully understand its classic status.
2. Tolstoy. Just because.
3. Dostoyevsky. See Tolstoy.
4. ‘We’ by Zamyatin. Just as great as it was the first time round, and even more powerful for my new understand of how it fits into the canon of Russian science fiction.
5. ‘The White Guard’ by Bulgakov. On first reading, I was expecting another ‘Master and Margarita’. With the re-reading, I was able to really appreciate Bulgakov’s versatility. This is now one of my top ‘novels of the city’ as well as a wonderful novel of the revolution.
Best publishers (in alphabetical order)
1. Alma Classics. They introduced me to Goncharov through Steven Pearl’s wonderful translations and are busy compiling the most wonderful list of Russian classics, including lots and lots of Bulgakov.
2. NYRB Classics. These publishers deserve every plaudit under the sun for making the work of censored Soviet writers Platonov and Krzhizhanovsky available to English readers.
3. Pushkin Press. With such a name it should be no surprise to see Pushkin on this list. They published ‘Subtly Worded’ by Teffi in 2014, and are also go-to authors for contemporary Russian literature, such as Elizarov’s ‘The Librarian’, which is very high on my reading list for 2016.
The ones that got away
1. I had hoped to take my reading up to Solzhenitsyn and was all ready to re-read his novels. The list just kept growing though, and I’m now resigned to saving him for next year.
2. A new read I was gearing myself up for was Vasili Grossman’s ‘Life and Fate.’ As with Solzhenitsyn though, the year ran away with me. I won’t forget though, and plan to spend a month or so getting to know Grossman in 2016.
1. Even though the novels I’ve covered for this project are great in isolation, they really are fantastic when read as a collection. Surprising new meanings, themes and relationships are suddenly evident and, while often I was re-reading, I was continually learning new things. Yes, it was intense, but it has been a great way to get to know a nation’s literature and I suspect I’ll be using this method again in the future.
2. No one should ever try to read all of Tolstoy’s fiction back to back. It’s a very foolish thing to do.
3. Lists grow. Initially, I thought I’d be covering about ten authors during the year. I had no idea how sprawling the project would become. It’s been well worth it though, four out of my five ‘best discoveries’ were of writers I’d never heard of until some way into the project.
4. Blogging is great. I like to think I would be have been this dedicated and systematic without the added spur of writing as I went along, but having the blog and the support of all you lovely readers has been an incredible boost the whole way through. A specific thank you to everyone who’s made suggestions along the way, neither Teffi nor Kollontai were my own idea – but I am very grateful that they were recommended!
My next project
Ha! Just kidding. I’m going to take a bit of a break from prescribed reading (except for my BAEM A-Z and my non-fiction challenge of course). As shown above, I’ve still got some loose ends to tie up with the Russian classics, meanwhile, my to-be-read pile has only been growing during this year. I do enjoy reading projects though, and, when I decide on a new one, I promise you’ll be the first to know.