Russian Fiction: A Reading List
By Emily HuntFebruary 20, 2014
AT THE END of the winter Olympics and, more pointedly, of the whirlwind of tweets, tidbits, tabloids, and (hash)tags about the state of Russia’s hosting city, Sochi, I can’t help but feel perplexed. Is it somewhat perturbing that we managed to condense the anxiety surrounding everything from unsolicited shirtless pictures of Vladimir Putin to poor drinking water to athletic conditions to social and political prejudice into one grammatically ambiguous word, #Sochiproblems? Probably. But playing into these rather tense themes present, here are a few truly intense and profound pieces of Russian fiction, condensed.
Notes from the Underground
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A neurotic introvert spends most of his time imagining and planning his revenge against a brawny officer who ignores him in the street. After this fails dismally, he ostracizes himself at a dinner party he wasn’t invited to anyway, obsesses over what his own servant thinks of him, and eventually forms an emotionally sadistic relationship with a young prostitute. He ends up breaking his own heart, and decides that he should stick to the life “underground” from now on. #shyguyproblems
The Fatal Eggs
by Mikhail Bulgakov
A professor makes a discovery that could save his country from famine; that is, a way to reproduce chicken eggs at rapid speed. When a grimly funny (in the way of bureaucratic satire) clerical error results in the experiments going terribly awry, famine becomes the least of the citizens’ problems, as they are plagued by an onslaught of mean-eating serpents. #gmoproblems
The Death of Ivan Ilyich
by Leo Tolstoy
A successful court judge becomes stricken with a mysterious and incurable disease. He flips out for a full three days, basically becoming a painful (and loud) burden to both himself and everyone around him. Just before he dies, he realizes how he has lived a selfish life only for himself, and hopes his death can at least absolve his loved ones of the pain he’s caused them. #vanityproblems
by Tatyana Tolstaya
Just. Absolutely. An amazing book. A post-apocalyptic Moscow lives in relative peace, despite its individual’s various mutations (like those with tentacle appendages or the half dog, half human slaves used by the community’s elite). That is, until the protagonist slowly realizes that the malevolent dictator, who seems to be, for all intents and purposes, a walking human ferret, is actually rewriting history and disallowing everybody from Freethinking themselves into a brighter future. #tinydictatorproblems
by Nikolai Gogol
A man wakes up one morning to realize his nose is, in fact, missing. After filing a report for the missing, erm, person, he realizes his nose has taken up a life of its own and, no less, has earned a higher rank in the civil service that its owner. Accusations of witchcraft, accidental marriage proposals, a citywide search, and a futile attempt to reattach the nose ensue until one day when order is, for seemingly no reason, restored. #selfanimatedfacialfeatureproblems
Emily Hunt studies comparative literature at UC Santa Barbara. Her work can be found in the North Bay Bohemian, San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Catalyst.
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