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Useful Notes / Russian Reading

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What Russians and those who lived in the former Soviet Union have to read. See also Russian Relaxing.

Newspapers

  • Pravda - several papers have been referred to this way, we'll be focusing on the best known one, the paper of the CPSU. Pravda is Russian for "truth". ''Da, pravda''.
  • In Soviet times the other main newspaper was called Izvestiya, literally meaning News (In Russian there is no distinction between definite and indefinite forms of nouns, so the title could also be translated as The News.) This inspired the following joke: "There are no news in Truth, and no truth in News".
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  • Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) - newspaper of the Soviet and now Russian military. Gave Margaret Thatcher her "Iron Lady" nickname.
  • Komsomolskaya Pravda - in Soviet times, this was a youth counterpart to Pravda. In post-soviet times, it became a yellowish, quite pro-government tabloid.
  • Novaya Gazeta - a supposedly independent newspaper with liberal (as in, old-school liberal, what Americans call conservative, not quasi-socialist) and pro-Western leanings.
  • Rossiyskaya Gazeta - the official newspaper of the Federal government.

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Magazines

  • Ogonyok - A weekly magazine running since 1899.
  • Krokodil - Satirical magazine (1922-1991).
  • Murzilka - Illustrated magazine for children printed from 1924 to this day.
  • Vesyolie kartinki - Another illustrated magazine for children (1956-2012). Notable for having comic book stories featuring characters pulled from folklore, cartoons and books popular at the time (a crossover if you will).

Notable literature

See also Russian Literature.

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Poets:

  • Mikhail Lomonosov (1711-1765)
  • Gavrila Derzhavin (1743-1816)
  • Alexander Pushkin, considered to be the greatest Russian poet and founder of Russian literature. His most famous work is a novel-in-verse Eugene Onegin.
  • Fyodor Tyutchev (1803-1873)
  • Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841), also author of the novel A Hero of Our Time
  • Innokenty Annensky (1855-1909)
  • Alexander Blok (1880–1921)
  • Vladislav Khodasevich (1886-1939)
  • Anna Akhmatova (1889–1966)
  • Boris Pasternak (1890–1960), also author of the novel Doctor Zhivago
  • Osip Mandelstam (1891–1938)
  • Marina Tsvetaeva (1892–1941)
  • Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)
  • Robert Rozhdestvensky (1932–1994)
  • Andrey Voznesensky (1933–2010)
  • Bella Akhmadulina (1937–2010)
  • Vladimir Vysotsky (formally a singer-songwriter, still considered an outstanding poet).
  • Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)

The classics: The "Golden Age"

  • Alexander Griboyedov (1790-1829): Woe From Wit. He is the ultimate One-Book Author and the play is a basic dramatic work in the Russian culture.
  • Nikolai Gogol: Dead Souls, "The Overcoat", The Inspector General
  • Ivan Goncharov: Oblomov
  • Aleksander Sukhovo-Kobylin (1817-1903): This wealthy aristocrate had a lover with whom he was fed up and who was brutally killed. He was (unjustly?) suspected of the murder and brought to justice. His experience with the said justice system was thoroughly negative, it was permeated by bribery. Still Sukhovo-Kobylin payed the officials and in that way avoided the punishment. Later he wrote three malicious plays about law enforcement bodies of the Imperial Russia. The obvious twist might be that he had actually killed his lover then faced the law and bought his way out of it then truthfully depicted the omnipresent corruption. In any case the plays are considered great.
  • Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy (1817-1875), the second cousin of Leo Tolstoy. He was a childhood friend of the future Russian emperor. This Tolstoy wrote several successful historical plays, set in the time of the tsar Ivan the Terrible. Also he was a poet, part of his stuff is lyrical, other part humorous and he is more valued for the latter half. Also he jointly with three brothers Zhemchuzhnikov created a fictional author Kozma Prutkov, a self-important philistine who parodied the views of the Russian imperial bereaucrats declaring many painfully obvious truths.
  • Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883): Author of Fathers and Sons, First Love and The Sportsman's Sketchbook. He was the first major Russian novelist to have an international readership, counting Henry James and Gustave Flaubert among his friends, and he was highly influential in Russia but over time his pro-Western liberal positions earned him scorn from both the Left and the Right. His short-stories were highly influential on Ernest Hemingway. Ironically, was sorta friends with both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, who were constantly exasperated with his Western sympathies, and though they quarreled often, there's a popular story that he, being an immensely wealthy landowner, frequently covered permanently poor Dostoyevsky's gambling debts.
  • Fyodor Dostoyevsky: He wrote Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, Notes from Underground, The Brothers Karamazov and many other books. He is considered by many to be Russia's greatest writer along with Tolstoy, though he was usually more liked outside Russia (especially in France) than withinnote , which is ironic since he was a slavophile West-hating conservative Great Russian. Ironically, in his youth he was a failed revolutionary, who had a mystical episode while in prison, just like Raskolnikov, and turned to conservatism afterwards. Suffered from a gambling poblem even larger than Pushkin's.
  • Alexander Ostrovsky (1823-1886): A prolific dramatist who put out numerous plays frequently set in the merchant millieu (most of his characters are not nobles). He was a versatile playwright, among other things he wrote The Snow Maiden, where the action is set in a fairytale world. His oeuvre provided Russian theatres with a solid share of their repertoire.
  • Nikolai Shedrin (1826-1889), also known as Mikhail Saltykov-Shedrin was a famous satirist who wrote many scathing books exposing the social evils of the XIX century Russia. He was renowned for his caustic, biting, acrimonious style. His best-known work is the chronicle The History Of A Town where he depicts a fictional town and its many mayors based off various Russian tsars. Oddly despite the obviousness of the prototypes the book was published immediately.
  • Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy aka Leo Tolstoy: He wrote War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and many, many others. He heavily influenced Mahatma Gandhi, James Joyce and several many other writers around the world.
  • Nikolai Leskov (1831-1895): A great novelist and short story writer whose works were highly admired within Russia by Chekhov, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and others but was Overshadowed by Awesome outside. He's best known for his short story Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District and The Tale of Cross-Eyed Lefty From Tula and The Steel Flea which is considered one of the greatest short stories ever written.
  • Anton Chekhov — yes, THE Chekhov. Wrote tons of short stories, of which perhaps the most famous is "The Lady with the Little Dog", and some legendary plays like The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard. Deemed heavily influential on Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and most 20th Century dramatists and short story writers.
  • Fyodor Sologub: A decadent writer and poet, started in 1890's. He is mostly famous for the novel The Petty Demon, published in 1905, which became a big hit and was widely discussed by the critics and audience.
  • Dmitry Merezhkovsky (1866-1941): One of the founders of the Russian symbolism. He authored a number of novels set in the Ancient times.
  • Maxim Gorky (1868-1936): He was a vagabond in his youth and started in 1890's as a romantic short story author, then turned into a playwriter, he also wrote several doorstoppers. Gorky became friends with both Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov who supported their younger colleague. Late in his life he was heavily promoted by the Soviet regime, which only escalated after his death, when he became the official principal writer of the socialist state (called "the great proletarian writer" though in his young days full of hardships he was a hobo rather than a worker at the plant). Nowadays his most remembered work is probably his second play The Lower Depths, once adapted by Akira Kurosawa.
  • Ivan Bunin (1870-1953): The author of several short novels and many short stories. The future would be somewhat harsh to him as he was considered a follower to Chekhov but lacking his knack and did not manage to put out "memetic" stories. None of his works or characters became a household name. In any case he is appreciated by the connaisseurs for the briliance of the prose style. Bunin was awarded a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1933 for his one long novel The Life of Arseniev. He was a staunch anti-Bolshevik and in 1918-20 he kept a famous diary, Cursed Days, depicting the collapse of Russia and the evils of the Bolshevik regime. No wonder he was very rarely published in the Soviet Union. Bunin was on friendly terms with Nabokov at first, later they turned into rivals.

20th century: The "Silver Age" and the Soviet period

  • Aleksey Remizov (1877-1957): One of the finest stylists of the Russian literature with a penchant for bizarre which he also managed to find in the everyday urban life of Saint-Petersburg. His most acclaimed work is Sisters of the Cross.
  • Andrey Bely (1880–1934): Poet, literary critic, and novelist, best known for his long novel, Petersburg which Nabokov and many others considered the greatest Russian-language novel of the 20th Century, a masterpiece on the same level as Ulysses.
  • Arkady Averchenko (1880-1925): A prolific author of the humourist short prose in the vein of stories by Chekhov but more urban (though less groundbreaking). Averchenko with several co-authors from the Satyricon magazine put out the book Universal History as Reworked by Satyricon, a parodic take on the general historic narrative as well as on the history course taught in the Russian schools at the time.
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-1937): We
  • Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940): Wrote A Theatrical Novel, The Master and Margarita, Heart of a Dog, Ivan Vasilievich, "The Fatal Eggs", and others. Living in early USSR times, he was proud enough to make fun of its ugly parts, and lucky to score Josef Stalin himself as a fan.
  • Ilya Ehrenburg (1894-1967): A very prolific writer. The picaresque The Extraordinary Adventures of Julio Jurenito and his Disciples (1922) is considered his best work.
  • Isaac Babel (1894-1940): Wrote Tales of Odessa, Red Cavalry, and other works.
  • Mikhail Zoshenko (1894-1958): A writer who worked in numerous genres but became the most famous for his satiric short stories, depicting various boorish philistine characters with shallow motivations speaking spoilt Russian. His mocking of the ordinary people was for some times accepted but in mid-1940's he fell under harsh attack of the Soviet regime for the anti-people slant of his works and was outlawed.
  • Leonid Dobychin (1894-1936): A One-Book Author who in 1935 published a highly original novel The Town of N. It was widely criticised. Then in 1936 Dobychin simply disappeared without a trace (most probably he drowned himself but his body was never found).
  • Evgeny Schwartz (1896-1958): A playwright who wrote numrous fairy tales in dramatic forms. Among his plays are the original dramatisations of The Emperor's New Clothes and Cinderella plots.
  • Anatoly Marienhof (1897-1962): A writer who was prolific in The Soviet Twenties and became acclaimed for his memoir The Novel without Lies (1926) and his novel The Cynics(1928), distinguished by the experimental vibe and the lighness of style. Joseph Brodsky thought that The Cynics was the best Russian novel of the XX century.
  • M.Ageyev (real name Mark Levi (1898-1973)) - a One-Book Author who in 1934 published Novel with Cocaine which was immediately noticed for its excellent style and various themes covered. The real authorship of this book for long time remained a mystery, anong others it was attributed to Nabokov. It was only in The '90s, that experts established for certain that it was written by Levi.
  • Vladimir Nabokov: Famous for writing great books in both Russian and English. He wrote King, Queen, Knave, "Despair, Invitation to a Beheading and The Gift in Russian, and Lolita and Pale Fire in English. At Cornell University he was professor of Russian Literature and wrote many scholarly works on Gogol, Pushkin, Turgenev and other writers, as well as translations of A Hero of Our Time, The Tale of Igor and Eugene Onegin''.
  • Konstantin Vaginov (1899-1934): An author of several romans a clef in The Soviet Twenties including Satyr Chorus and Works and Days of Svistonov which depicted the everyday life of the Russian intelligenttsia under the relatively soft communist regime of that decade. He timely died in 1934 of tuberculosis. Later in 1937 all his surviving relatives were massacred.
  • Andrei Platonov (1899-1951): A soviet-era author whose work was published in large numbers during the 80s. Best known for The Foundation Pit and his other works written in experimental styles despite official policies of Socialist Realism which was the major reason his works were banned.
  • Yury Olesha (1899-1960): The writer, most acclaimed for his two works, the revolutionary fairy tale Three Fat Men (1924) and a stylish psychological novel Envy (1927).
  • Nikolai Erdman (1900-1970): A playwright who in The Soviet Twenties authored two outstanding plays: The Mandate and The Suicide, famed for their less-than-complimentary view of the ordinary urban dwellers of the NEP epoch. In 1930's he was plain and simple prohibited to write new plays and later exiled to Siberia (although not in The Gulag, he formally remained a free man).
  • Ilf and Petrov: 1920's-30's satirical writers. Authors of The Twelve Chairs and The Little Golden Calf.
  • Gaito Gazdanov (1903-1971): An emigre writer, the author of several novels depicting the life in Paris. His most famous works are An Evening with Claire and Night Roads.
  • Daniil Kharms (1905-1942): He was an absurdist writer who wrote many surrealist, illogical short (and not-so-short) stories. This author became acclaimed for his verve in twisting and parodying the reality. He did not fare well in the Soviet 1930's though he survived that decade.
  • Ivan Yefremov: A paleontologist turned writer, who wrote Thaïs of Athens and the Great Ring cycle. Sometimes accused of writing Author Tracts inbstead of literary fiction.
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Wrote One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago. Won a Nobel Prize in 1970. Immensely famous and influential in The '60s and The '70s, his reputation declined afterwards, when he became another anti-Western slavophile in the tradition of Dostoevsky. His name is often mentioned when 'crimes of communism' are discussed.
  • Strugatsky Brothers Arkady and Boris: Soviet era Science Fiction writers. There is a number of films based on their works. Their novel Roadside Picnic inspired the video game Stalker
  • Vasily Shukshin (1929-1974): A short story writer who depicted the life of the non-intellectuals, his works are often set in the rural millieu.
  • Yuri Mamleev (1931-2015): The founder of the non-existent "metaphysical realism" movement. He became acclaimed after his debut novel Shatuny (1966) which relished in all things disgusting, both physically and psychologically. The notorious work is not for the squeamish ones. Of course it could by no means be published in the Soviet Russia but appeared in print immediately after its collapse.
  • Alexander Wampilov (1937-1972): A playwright who made four full-length plays (Duck Hunting might be his "main" work) which afterwards became the mainstays of the repertoire of the Russian theatre.
  • Vladimir Makanin (1937-2017): Mostly famous for his novel The Underground, or a Hero of Our Time from the late 90's.
  • Venedikt Erofeev (1938-1990): The author of the cult underground work Moscow - Petushki.
  • Sergei Dovlatov (1941-1990): A humourist who penned a number of novels based on his own misdaventures in the Soviet Russia, including in the Gulag where he served as a guard, not as a prisoner, in various papers and in Pushkinskiye Gory (Alexander Pushkin's estate made his memorial in the Soviet Russia) as well as in emigration. The protagonist in his novels is generally Dovlatov himself. He was famous for coining many useful urban clichées which are still frequently quoted by Russian intellectuals.
  • Kir Bulychev: A friend of the Strugatskys, he also wrote sci-fi, most notably the Alice, Girl from the Future series. He was also a historian by profession and wrote several educational and popular historical books under his real mane Igor Mozheiko (Kir Bulychev is a pseudonim adopted because he was unsure how his bosses would look on a "non-serious" pastime like writing Sci-Fi books).
  • Vainer Brothers: Detective novel writing duo. Authors of The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed and The Vertical Races. One of the brothers was a detective in the Moscow Criminal Police (the famous MUR), so he wrote from the experience.
  • Nikolay Nosov: a children's author from the mid-Soviet period. His most known work is the trilogy Adventures of Dunno.
  • Leonid Gabyshev (born 1952): A One-Book Author who secured a place in history by his novel Odlyan, or the Air of Freedom.
  • Vladimir Sorokin (born 1955): a famed postmodernist, who focuses on the grotesque and shocking aspects of Russian society. A few of his works have pretty offensive scenes, featuring coprophagia and rape, which became All There Is to Know About "The Crying Game" for his books.

Contemporary literature: Post-Soviet period to Present Day

  • Boris Akunin (born 1956): He wrote the Erast Fandorin series, the Reconstruction of Russian detective genre starting in late '90s.
  • Victor Pelevin: He is probably the most famous writer of the post-Soviet period. Pelevin's works belong to the fashionable genre of Postmodernism. He is very keen on Buddhist ideas, various substances and omnipotent conspiracies. His definitive book remains Generation P
  • Arcia Chronicles, a High Fantasy novel series, and Gleams of Aeterna, a Low Fantasy series by Vera Kamsha, who is sometimes called the Russian G. R. R. Martin.
  • Nick Perumov is probably the second most well-known after Lukyanenko; he is better known for his fantasy works.
  • Max Frei (the pseudonim of Svetlana Martynchik (born 1965). sometimes in co-authorship with Igor Stepin). She/they wrote Labyrinths of Echo - a wildly popular urban fantasy series.
  • Sergey Lukyanenko, a popular modern Russian Speculative Fiction author. He wrote Night Watch (Series), one of the most popular recent fantasy novels in Russia and his most famous work in the English-speaking world.
  • Oleg Divov: one of the most popular modern Russian sci-fi authors. Sometimes considered more sci-fi inclined version of Pelevin on much less drugs

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