3 Russian Authors You Need to Know About
Russia has a rich and famous literary tradition: everyone’s read chapters from War and Peace in high school literature classes, or made an effort to get through the notoriously long and complicated Crime and Punishment. But aside from Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, there are plenty of great Russian authors whose names haven’t quite infiltrated the English-speaking world. If you’re traveling to Russia or planning to interact with Russian speakers, know the names of these three authors — you’ll open the door for great conversation, and you’ll thoroughly impress even the brainiest of your Russian friends.
1. Boris Akunin: Akunin has been described as the “undisputed champion” of Russian crime fiction. His detective novels, which take place in Imperial Russia, are a Russian-language analogue to the beloved Sherlock Holmes series.
Suggested Reading: Azazel (“The Winter Queen”) — This is the first novel in Akunin’s wildly popular detective series. They are not only engaging and exciting to read, but they also offer an extraordinarily detailed level of historical accuracy. Thus, Azazel will improve both your knowledge of the Russian language and of Russian history. For an intellectually engaging conversation topic, discuss it with your Russian friends — but make sure that you don’t give away any spoilers!
2. Venedikt Yerofeyev: In Russia, Venedikt Yerofeyev was a well-known satirist and social commentator. In addition, he was a well-known alcoholic, and was famously quoted as saying: “Oh, that most helpless and shameful of times in the life of my people, the time from dawn until the liquor stores open up!’
Suggested Reading: Moscow to the End of the Line. This is a fascinating surreal story about a drunk man’s journey on a train to a small Russian town. It tells an intriguing psychological tale, and is also filled with literary allusions and connotations for the intellectuals and bookworms of the crowd. Above all, Yerofeyev’s biting sarcasm and exceptionally dark sense of humor encapsulate the Russian psyche, and will help you understand what makes your Russian friends tick.
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3. Eduard Limonov: Eduard Limonov is one of the most controversial and well-known Russian scholars and political activists today. He is the founder of the National Bolshevik Party, which has been banned in Russia since 2007. Famously, he’s been arrested and even imprisoned for his anti-government rallies in Russia.
Suggested Reading:It’s Me, Eddie. Described as a Russian version of Catcher in the Rye, It’s Me, Eddie is a semi-autobiographical account of Limonov’s own experience in the United States, and describes his life as an outcast in American society. It’s Me, Eddie is especially great for learning Russian swear words, as Limonov has a propensity for launching into трехэтажный мат (“three-story obscenities”), long and colorful strings of profanity.
Name-dropping any of these authors will earn you brownie points with your Russian friends and colleagues, especially the scholarly and bookish ones of the bunch. In addition, you’ll be engaging with challenging and interesting material that will improve your Russian skills (if you’re a beginner, don’t worry — all the books mentioned are available in translation).
However, if you truly want to make an impression on your Russian friends and colleagues, consider boosting your language skills in the best and fastest way possible: by taking Russian courses from qualified, native-speaking language teachers. You’ll be able to communicate more effectively with your Russian connections — and you’ll be able to really understand Eduard Limonov’s three-story obscenities.