This month Becca of I’m Lost in Books is hosting a free-choice reading event of books set in Russia. I have a couple of books in mind for this:
Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov is rather like a “Chicken Soup for the Russian Orthodox Soul,” to make a homely comparison. The author describes his awakening of faith and entry into the Pskov Caves Monastery in Pechory, near the Estonian border.
I learned of this book from a review by Emma of Words and Peace. It was reportedly a bestseller in Russia, with over a million copies sold worldwide. The personal warmth and frankness of its author have surely been a big part of its success. He tells us that, although he and his friends were reasonably happy young men with promising careers, something strange and wonderful drew them to monastic life: “for each of us, a new world had suddenly opened up, incomparable in its beauty.” He attempts to share this beauty as it manifests in daily life, through his gift for storytelling. Understanding the beauty of this Orthodox way of life is one essential to understanding the foundations of Russian culture, especially relevant since the fall of the Soviet system.
I hope to read Everyday Saints during the remainder of May, but I wanted to mention another Russian book, Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate.
In scope and importance, this World War II novel has been compared to War and Peace. At nearly 900 pages, this will take me a while, but I’d like to make a start on it in May during our Read Russia event.
In a much lighter vein, I’d like to recommend Rosalind Laker’s charming historical novel, To Dream of Snow, in which a Parisian seamstress travels to the court of the Empress Elisabeth to embroider the elaborate gowns of the monarch and her daughter-in-law Catherine–the future Catherine the Great (for more details, see my review).
Finally, if you haven’t read Anna Karenina yet, there are so many good translations available now. I first read the older one by Constance Garnett; it has its critics these days, but it certainly won me over (and it is free on Kindle). I like the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation in the Dover Thrift Edition, and their version was used for the movie tie-in edition to Joe Wright’s brilliant (but underrated) film.
Another Russian classic is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhensitsyn (trans. H. T. Willetts). Here’s a recent paperback edition.
I hope some of these ideas are helpful; likewise, I hope to get some new ideas of mysteries, historicals, and contemporary fiction set in Russia, from other readers!