5 books to read before you visit Russia
Russia is a country steeped in history, so it’s only natural that the country has produced many talented writers.
From classic such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace to books on Soviet cooking, reading about Russia is a great way to get acquainted with this foreign land.
To help you prepare for your trip, our Europe experts have picked their favourite books to read before you visit Russia.
1) War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
A Russian classic, Tolstoy’s War and Peace tells the story of Napoleon invading Russia in 1812. Following three distinct characters, this epic novel wonderfully represents how the invasion of Russia affected local people from all walks of life. The book follows Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a wealthy count, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky who abandons his family to fight in the war against Napoleon and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman. From peasants to nobility, Tolstoy weaves these three stories together seamlessly, in a way that transports the reader back to the very heart of 19th century Russia.
2) Crime & Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Well-known novel Crime & Punishment is a thought-provoking work, posing the question: is it just to commit murder, if the murder will ultimately benefit humanity? Is it reasonable to trade one life for the preservation of many others? This captivating novel poses moral questions throughout, and has – for good reason – become one of the most celebrated books of our time as a result. The book follows Raskolnikov, an impoverished student struggling to survive amidst the gloomy slums of St. Petersburg. This detective thriller combines with provocative social commentary and a journey through St Petersburg to bring one of Russia’s biggest cities to life.
3) Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, Anya von Bremzen
To provide some light relief from war and murder mystery, try Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking. A memoir of food and longing, this book traces the lives of many Russian women throughout the centuries. Set to a backdrop of contemporary Russia, the book follows the author’s grandmother cooking in a Lenin-ruled Russia before introducing her mother’s kitchen during Stalin’s time. As Anya von Bremzen tells her inter-generational story, you can’t help but get swept up in the tastes, smells and sounds of Russia through the years.
4) Nicholas & Alexandra, Robert Massie
Set in Imperial Russia, Nicholas & Alexandra tells the story of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov. Against an alluring backdrop of luxury and mystery, the lives of two Russian royals unfold dramatically. From a son battling haemophilia to Alexandra’s obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin, their journey is far from smooth sailing. With a doomed empire in the midst of crumble at its centre, this novel sweeps readers straight back to the drama and passion of Imperial Russia.
5) Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
A fitting book to follow War and Peace, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina begins with a seemingly perfect character. Anna Karenina has it all: wealth, a delightful home and a perfect family. The real drama begins when Anna Karenina falls for the charms of Count Vrosky, with tragic consequences. As she becomes entangled in a scandalous affair, Anna Karenina faces intense judgment from those closest to her, as well as the rest of Russian society. Tolstoy refrains from pointing to a moral lesson throughout, but this cleverly written novel opens the doors of St Petersburg’s 19th century noble homes.
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