Leo TolstoyCount Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, or Leo Tolstoy as we know him, is the acclaimed writer of War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Yet one of Tolstoy’s best works is his non-fiction book, A Confession, written after the author experienced a moral crisis and, consequently, spiritual upliftment. His writings on non-violence, particularly relevant today, went on to impress a young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, so we owe a debt to Tolstoy, which can be repaid only by reading and understanding his work in detail.
Nikolai GogolGogol was Irrfan Khan’s character’s favourite author in The Namesake. It’s easy to see why anyone would be charmed by Gogol’s works, as he wrote mostly about freedom and was an accomplished satirist too. His stories, such as Dead Souls, The Overcoat and Taras Bulba, are must-reads for literature lovers.
Maxim GorkyGorky’s greatest contribution to Russian literature was breaking away from the norm of making peasants the hero and instead celebrating action, will and creativity in his writings. Appearing out of nowhere, Gorky caught the imagination of Russia and much of Europe for his works, including The Mother, Children of the Sun, Summerfolkand his autobiographical book, My Childhood.
Vladimir NabokovIf you’re looking for an author whose wordplay will dazzle you, whose plots will surprise you at every turn, and whose simple optimism is catching, Nabokov is your man. Author of sensual works such as Lolita and Pale Fire, and a certified lepidopterist, his novels are a must-read.
Alexander PushkinPushkin’s influence is so widespread that he is often considered the father of modern Russian literature (see picture above). He is also credited with creating the modern Russian language by making poems accessible to the peasant population. His verse novel, Eugene Onegin, is considered an encyclopaedia of Russian life and is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the country.
Aleksandr SolzhenitsynSolzhenitsyn was the last of the Russian greats and his death in 2008 caused widespread grief throughout the literature world. After all, there was hardly anyone else who could write about the shortcomings of the Russian empire, life in Soviet gulags and the role of Jews in the Bolshevik Revolution – all landmarks in the story of modern Russia. The story of Solzhenitsyn receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature is a real-life satire worthy of a place amongst his finest works.
Fyodor DostoevskyDostoevsky’s emergence as a writer says more about him than anything he’s written. After growing disenchanted with his life as a military engineer, he joined a group of utopian socialists – an act for which he was imprisoned in Siberia. In the aftermath of that came most of Dostoevsky’s stories, which established him as one of the greatest Russian authors of all time. His work offers a glimpse into the dark side of human nature in all its violence, nastiness and dark humour. Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov are must-reads from his oeuvre, which inspired later Russian writers such as Anton Chekhov and Solzhenitsyn, as well as philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Friedrich Nietzsche.
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