Russian Literature and Me

Considering I come from a family that is Russian and that I could speak and read the language since I was a child, I never really paid much attention to Russian literature. I did read some Pushkin and Lermontov before – long ago, – but I cannot recall any of it. I also remember the time when I attempted Gogol’s Taras Bulba, but the enterprise was abandoned after several chapters. Perhaps the younger me was not ready for the mammoths of literature. After all, even adults get headaches from Russian classics. I know my mother absolutely despises the depressing and word-heavy “masterpieces”, so I was never really exposed to the potential that these books hold.

Reading for class, as everyone must relate to this, is tiresome and boring; immediately I found a million other things I could do instead of pondering over old dusty books. When I was attending Russian school, our literature teacher assigned an impossibly extensive list of works we had to read during summer. The list contained anywhere between fifteen to twenty book, so try to picture a kid who would undertake that assignment rather than play outside with friends. We were also told to keep a reading journal with summaries of the books for quick references during the school year. I had a reading journal that I kept for three years of such assignments, and what I wouldn’t give to be able to flip through it again. Unfortunately, it is lost in time. I remember very few of the titles I was obligated to read, and that’s a shame, because I would love to follow the list now that I am an adult. Now, I am actually eager to read these books. Alas, I have to reconstruct the list from little bits and pieces that I remember. Isn’t it weird how broken and distorted a childhood memory can be?

I do feel blessed in a way that I can discover great writers like Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky in their original glory. That is why I almost feel like it’s my duty to read as much of Russian literature as I can, while I still possess my mother tongue (yes, I do feel like I am starting to forget it as years go by). So where do I start? I asked my mother which authors she was asked to read in school as a requirement, and I also searched some Russian educational websites for information. I stumbled on a forum post that allowed members to talk about the books they were forced to read back in the day. The postings were hilarious, but contained a lot of famous works by Gorky (my arch-nemesis from school years) Gogol and Tolstoy. Should I tackle the authors I’ve always been scared of first? Should I dig in into the lengthy 19th century fiction? My mother told me to drop the idea as I would apparently just get depressed and quit anyway. To counter that, I know that unlike my mom I love tragic stories that evoke deep emotions, so perhaps I’d be a happy camper after all. Since I cannot refer to the lost reading journal, I made my own list based on my research of school requirements in Russia. I will refer to it once in a while to see if I am on my way to become a little closer to my literary heritage.

Early History
The Tale of Igor’s Campaign
A Journey Beyond the Three Seas
Bylinas

18th Century
Poor Liza by Nikolai Karamzin

19th Century
Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
The Little Tragedies by Alexander Pushkin
A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov
Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka by Nikolai Gogol
Taras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
The Provincial Sketches by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin
Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Childhood, Boyhood, Youth by Leo Tolstoy
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Short Stories by Anton Chekhov

20th Century
Childhood by Maxim Gorky
Makar Chudra by Maxim Gorky
Mother by Maxim Gorky
Aelita by Aleksey Tolstoy
The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin by Aleksey Tolstoy
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Quiet Don by Mikhail Sholokhov
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

2 comments

  1. Jillian ♣ · ·

    Wow. That would be incredible to read actual Tolstoy. I dislike that I can only read the translated version and wonder if it’s the translator or the author who is impressing/disappointing me.

  2. I can definitely relate to the feeling. I always try to read books in original language whenever I can. That is why I also started learning French. I figured it would give me an opportunity to discover great French literature in its full glory; plus, it’s the second official language of Canada, so I might as well know it! Now if only I could perfect the other few languages that I kind of know… I know you’re reading War and Peace on and off right now, so good luck with that! I’m so looking forward to eventually discover Tolstoy for myself.

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