#TTWIB Travels in May: Reading Russia

15 May

Reading Russia

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 cover (Russia)

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).

To Dream of Snow

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!

5 Responses to “#TTWIB Travels in May: Reading Russia”

  1. Sharon @ Faith Hope & Cherrytea May 15, 2016 at 8:39 am #

    A fantastic post, Lucy, with unique book intros. I had been going by the goodreads #TTWIB May being open choice and had focused on Italy. So this is a great surprise. My mystery suspense thriller to add to your reading list is Noel Hynd’s series opener, “Conspiracy in Kiev”. Hold your breath tension – repreatedly. I look forward to a further 2 novels in the series – Midnight in Madrid and Countdown in Cairo.
    And would invite you to consider adding yours to the annual European Reading Challenge at Rose City Reader. Inspiring choices.
    Thanks, Lucy, and happy reading times!

    • Lucy Pollard-Gott May 16, 2016 at 12:04 am #

      Thanks so much, Sharon! “Conspiracy in Kiev” sounds like a great suggestion for this month, especially with your high praise. Glad to learn of this around-the-world mystery series by Hynds. And I will check out the challenge at Rose City Reader–thanks!
      When it came time to vote on the country for May’s reading, I was torn between Italy and Russia myself. What have you been reading set in Italy?

  2. WordsAndPeace May 15, 2016 at 11:44 am #

    wow thanks for mentioning the Orthodox book, something bloggers rarely hear about. I would highly recommend another one, that I read for the IFFP last year, by an author who is getting more and more noticed: https://wordsandpeace.com/2015/03/30/iffp-2015-review-the-dead-lake/

    • Lucy Pollard-Gott May 16, 2016 at 12:15 am #

      Yes, I’ve been wanting to read Tikhon’s memoir for a while, and now I’ve actually begun it!
      And thank you for the book recommendation of The Dead Lake. The ‘Verdict’ from your review–“Dramatic short novel haunting in its juxtaposition of beauty and sadness”–was striking, and it is quite an achievement to transmute such grim historical reality into an artistic narrative.

  3. Isi May 18, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

    Hi Lucy! Russia is a country almost unknown to me regarding literature (and other aspects, of course). I also have Life and fate, and I wanted to read it, but I’ll wait a little, because my exams start in a few days and I have no time.
    Perhaps in the summer…
    Anyway, I’m looking forward to knowing what you think after reading it.

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