Other Great Russian Reads

Every month, there are always a number of books from the country we’re reading which don’t make it into our final list we vote on. Sometimes, it’s because a book doesn’t meet our club criteria, but other times, it’s simply because we don’t have enough room on our official list of just 6 books. So we’ve now begun publishing that expanded list of books.

Below are 15 fantastic reads written by Russian authors or about Russia that we think should definitely be added to your TBR lists.

 

Travels with NPR host David Greene along the Trans-Siberian Railroad capture an overlooked, idiosyncratic Russia in the age of Putin.

Far away from the trendy cafés, designer boutiques, and political protests and crackdowns in Moscow, the real Russia exists.

Midnight in Siberia chronicles David Greene’s journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a 6,000-mile cross-country trip from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. In quadruple-bunked cabins and stopover towns sprinkled across the country’s snowy landscape, Greene speaks with ordinary Russians about how their lives have changed in the post-Soviet years.

These travels offer a glimpse of the new Russia—a nation that boasts open elections and newfound prosperity, but continues to endure oppression, corruption, a dwindling population, and stark inequality.

Midnight in Siberia is a lively travel narrative filled with humor, adventure, and insight. It opens a window onto that country’s complicated relationship with democracy and offers a rare look into the soul of twenty-first-century Russia.

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4.5 stars on both Amazon & Goodreads with 5,400+ reviews on Goodreads!

#1 bestseller in audiobooks

The unrelenting #1 LitRPG bestseller in Russia since 2012

A favorite foreign read of mine

”Barliona. A virtual world jam-packed with monsters, battles - and predictably, players. Millions of them come to Barliona, looking forward to the things they can't get in real life: elves and magic, dragons and princesses, and unforgettable combat. The game has become so popular that players now choose to spend months online without returning home. In Barliona, anything goes: you can assault fellow players, level up, become a mythical hero, a wizard or a legendary thief. The only rule that attempted to regulate the game demanded that no player was allowed to feel actual pain. But there's an exception to every rule. For a certain bunch of players, Barliona has become their personal hell. They are criminals sent to Barliona to serve their time. They aren't in it for the dragons' gold or the abundant loot. All they want is to survive the virtual inferno. They face the ultimate survival quest.”

(If you like audiobooks, we highly recommend the audio version though the book version is fantastic as well.)

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Written by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature

A favorite foreign read of mine

"One of the great allegorical masterpieces of world literature, Cancer Ward is both a deeply compassionate study of people facing terminal illness and a brilliant dissection of the 'cancerous' Soviet police state. Banned in Russia, it became, along with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a work that awoke the conscience of the world. As Robert Service wrote of its appeal in the Independent, 'In waging his struggle against Soviet communism, Solzhenitsyn the novelist preferred the rapier to the cudgel'."

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“Red Schuhart is a stalker, one of those young rebels who are compelled, in spite of extreme danger, to venture illegally into the Zone to collect the mysterious artifacts that the alien visitors left scattered around. His life is dominated by the place and the thriving black market in the alien products. But when he and his friend Kirill go into the Zone together to pick up a ‘full empty,’ something goes wrong. And the news he gets from his girlfriend upon his return makes it inevitable that he’ll keep going back to the Zone, again and again, until he finds the answer to all his problems.

First published in 1972, Roadside Picnic is still widely regarded as one of the greatest science fiction novels, despite the fact that it has been out of print in the United States for almost thirty years. This authoritative new translation corrects many errors and omissions and has been supplemented with a foreword by Ursula K. Le Guin and a new afterword by Boris Strugatsky explaining the strange history of the novel’s publication in Russia.”

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“Steinbeck & Capa’s account of their journey through Cold War Russia is a classic piece of reportage & travel writing

Just after the Iron Curtain fell on Eastern Europe, Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Steinbeck and acclaimed war photographer Robert Capa ventured into the Soviet Union to report for the New York Herald Tribune. This rare opportunity took the famous travelers not only to Moscow and Stalingrad – now Volgograd – but through the countryside of the Ukraine and the Caucasus. Hailed by the New York Times as ‘superb’ when it first appeared in 1948, A Russian Journal is the distillation of their journey and remains a remarkable memoir and unique historical document.

What they saw and movingly recorded in words and on film was what Steinbeck called ‘the great other side there … the private life of the Russian people.’ Unlike other Western reporting about Russia at the time, A Russian Journal is free of ideological obsessions. Rather, Steinbeck and Capa recorded the grim realities of factory workers, government clerks, and peasants, as they emerged from the rubble of World War II—represented here in Capa’s stirring photographs alongside Steinbeck’s masterful prose. Through it all, we are given intimate glimpses of two artists at the height of their powers, answering their need to document human struggle. This edition features an introduction by Steinbeck scholar Susan Shillinglaw.”

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Finalist for the LA Times Book Prize

“Olga Grushin’s astonishing literary debut has won her comparisons with everyone from Gogol to Nabokov. A virtuoso study in betrayal and its consequences, it explores—really, colonizes—the consciousness of Anatoly Sukhanov, who many years before abandoned the precarious existence of an underground artist for the perks of a Soviet apparatchik. But, at the age of 56, his perfect life is suddenly disintegrating. Buried dreams return to haunt him. New political alignments threaten to undo him.

Vaulting effortlessly from the real to the surreal and from privilege to paranoia, The Dream Life of Sukhanov is a darkly funny, demonically entertaining novel.

In well-honed prose with vivid imagery, Grushin provides a portrait of a culture, interplaying art with politics in twentieth-century Russia, and dealing throughout with the universal subjects of love and truth.”

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“A dazzling Russian travelogue

In his astonishing new work, Ian Frazier, one of our greatest and most entertaining storytellers, trains his perceptive, generous eye on Siberia, the storied expanse of Asiatic Russia whose grim renown is but one explanation among hundreds for the region's fascinating, enduring appeal. In Travels in Siberia, Frazier reveals Siberia's role in history—its science, economics, and politics—with great passion and enthusiasm, ensuring that we'll never think about it in the same way again.

With great empathy and epic sweep, Frazier tells the stories of Siberia's most famous exiles, from the well-known—Dostoyevsky, Lenin (twice), Stalin (numerous times)—to the lesser known (like Natalie Lopukhin, banished by the empress for copying her dresses) to those who experienced unimaginable suffering in Siberian camps under the Soviet regime.

Travels in Siberia is also a unique chronicle of Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, a personal account of adventures among Russian friends and acquaintances, and, above all, a unique, captivating, totally Frazierian take on what he calls the ‘amazingness’ of Russia—a country that, for all its tragic history, somehow still manages to be funny. Travels in Siberia will undoubtedly take its place as one of the twenty-first century's indispensable contributions to the travel-writing genre.”

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“Everything Flows is Vasily Grossman’s final testament, written after the Soviet authorities suppressed his masterpiece, Life and Fate (https://amzn.to/31rMxFx).

The main story is simple: released after thirty years in the Soviet camps, Ivan Grigoryevich must struggle to find a place for himself in an unfamiliar world. But in a novel that seeks to take in the whole tragedy of Soviet history, Ivan’s story is only one among many. Thus we also hear about Ivan’s cousin, Nikolay, a scientist who never let his conscience interfere with his career, and Pinegin, the informer who got Ivan sent to the camps. Then a brilliant short play interrupts the narrative: a series of informers steps forward, each making excuses for the inexcusable things that he did—inexcusable and yet, the informers plead, in Stalinist Russia understandable, almost unavoidable. And at the core of the book, we find the story of Anna Sergeyevna, Ivan’s lover, who tells about her eager involvement as an activist in the Terror famine of 1932–33, which led to the deaths of three to five million Ukrainian peasants. Here Everything Flows attains an unbearable lucidity comparable to the last cantos of Dante’s Inferno.

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Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year,
Finalist for the German Book Award, &
Favorite Read of the Year in the Huffington Post & the Wall Street Journal

”Russian-born Alina Bronsky gives readers a moving portrait of the devious limits of the will to survive. The narrator of this rollicking family saga is the outrageously mischievous Rosa Achmetowna, whom The Millions literary magazine calls ‘one of the most fascinating women in the world.’

When she discovers that her seventeen-year-old daughter, ‘stupid Sulfia,’ is pregnant by an unknown man she does everything to thwart the pregnancy, employing a variety of folkloric home remedies. But despite her best efforts the baby, Aminat, is born nine months later at Soviet Birthing Center Number 134. Much to Rosa’s surprise and delight, dark eyed Aminat is a Tartar through and through and instantly becomes the apple of her grandmother’s eye. While her good for nothing husband Kalganow spends his days feeding pigeons and contemplating death at the city park, Rosa wages an epic struggle to wrestle Aminat away from Sulfia, whom she considers a woefully inept mother. When Aminat, now a wild and willful teenager, catches the eye of a sleazy German cookbook writer researching Tartar cuisine, Rosa is quick to broker a deal that will guarantee all three women a passage out of the Soviet Union. But as soon as they are settled in the West, the uproariously dysfunctional ties that bind mother, daughter and grandmother begin to fray.

Told with sly humor and an anthropologist’s eye for detail, The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine is the story of three unforgettable women whose destinies are tangled up in a family dynamic that is at turns hilarious and tragic.”

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“One of Bustle's & Men's Journal's Best Nonfiction Books in January, & a USA Today New and Noteworthy Book

’Brilliant, real and readable.’ -former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Lisa Dickey traveled across the whole of Russia three times—in 1995, 2005 and 2015—making friends in 11 different cities, then coming back again and again to see how their lives had changed. Like the acclaimed British documentary series Seven Up!, she traces the ups and downs of ordinary people’s lives, in the process painting a deeply nuanced portrait of modern Russia.

From the caretakers of a lighthouse in Vladivostok, to the Jewish community of Birobidzhan, to a farmer in Buryatia, to a group of gay friends in Novosibirsk, to a wealthy family in Chelyabinsk, to a rap star in Moscow, Dickey profiles a wide cross-section of people in one of the most fascinating, dynamic and important countries on Earth. Along the way, she explores dramatic changes in everything from technology to social norms, drinks copious amounts of vodka, and learns firsthand how the Russians really feel about Vladimir Putin.

Including powerful photographs of people and places over time, and filled with wacky travel stories, unexpected twists, and keen insights, Bears in the Streets offers an unprecedented on-the-ground view of Russia today.”

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“Toothy, gritty, and relentless. Alexey Pehov sneaks up on you and fascinates with the wry voice of a young Moorcock. Clear space on your shelf—you'll want the whole series.

An army is gathering; thousands of giants, ogres, and other creatures are joining forces from all across the Desolate Lands, united, for the first time in history, under one, black banner. By the spring, or perhaps sooner, the Nameless One and his forces will be at the walls of the great city of Avendoom.

Unless Shadow Harold, master thief, can find some way to stop them.

Epic fantasy at its best, Shadow Prowler is the first in a trilogy that follows Shadow Harold on his quest for a magic Horn that will restore peace to the Kingdom of Siala. Harold will be accompanied on his quest by an Elfin princess, Miralissa, her elfin escort, and ten Wild Hearts, the most experienced and dangerous fighters in their world…and by the king’s court jester (who may be more than he seems…or less).”

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“Thubron learned Russian and then camped and drove almost 10,000 miles between the Baltic Sea and the Caucasus. In Among the Russians, he guides the armchair tourist through the vast expanses of diverse territories allowing us to feel his excitement, fatigue and fears.

Here is a fresh perspective on the last tumultuous years of the Soviet Union and an exquisitely poetic travelogue. With a keen grasp of Russia's history, a deep appreciation for its architecture and iconography, and an inexhaustible enthusiasm for its people and its culture, Colin Thubron is the perfect guide to a country most of us will never get to know firsthand.

Here, we can walk down western Russia's country roads, rest in its villages, and explore some of the most engaging cities in the world. Beautifully written and infinitely insightful, Among the Russians is vivid, compelling travel writing that will also appeal to readers of history and current events—and to anyone captivated by the shape and texture of one of the world's most enigmatic culture.”

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“The novel that spawned the videogame: It's post-apocalypse Moscow. After the nuclear holocaust, a new fear is born, underground

The year is 2033, the world has been reduced to rubble, and humanity is nearly extinct, half-destroyed cities having become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Man has handed over stewardship of the earth to new life-forms—mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. A few score thousand human survivors live on in the Moscow Metro—the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters—or the simple need to repulse an enemy incursion. It is a world without a tomorrow, and feelings have given way to instinct—the most important of which is survival, at any price. VDNKh, the northernmost inhabited station on its line, remains secure—but now a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro, to the legendary Polis, to alert everyone to the awful danger and to get help. In his hands he holds the future of his native station, the Metro, and perhaps the whole of humanity.

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Fans of historical mysteries, Holmesian brilliance, & Inspector Clousseauian bumbling will love this series from a Russian writer of Georgian origin.

“Moscow, May 1876: What would cause a talented young student from a wealthy family to shoot himself in front of a promenading public in the Alexander Gardens? Decadence and boredom, most likely, is what the commander of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Police thinks, but still he finds it curious enough to send the newest member of the division, Erast Fandorin, a young man of irresistible charm, to the Alexander Gardens precinct for more information.

Fandorin is not satisfied with the conclusion that this is an open-and-shut case, nor with the preliminary detective work the precinct has done—and for good reason: The bizarre and tragic suicide is soon connected to a clear case of murder, witnessed firsthand by Fandorin. There are many unresolved questions. Why, for instance, have both victims left their fortunes to an orphanage run by the English Lady Astair? And who is the beautiful “A.B.,” whose signed photograph is found in the apparent suicide’s apartment? Relying on his keen intuition, the eager sleuth plunges into an investigation that leads him across Europe, landing him at the deadly center of a terrorist conspiracy of worldwide proportions.

In this thrilling mystery that brings 19th Russia to vivid life, Akunin has created one of the most eagerly anticipated novels in years.”

Note: This book is listed as the 4th in the series, but it was published 1st & many recommend that readers start with this volume & read the series in order of publication.

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“A gorgeous meditation on what it means to not be human. An evocative steampunk fable about the price of industrial development.

Mattie, an intelligent automaton skilled in the use of alchemy, finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between gargoyles, the Mechanics, and the Alchemists. With the old order quickly giving way to the new, Mattie discovers powerful and dangerous secrets - secrets that can completely alter the balance of power in the city of Ayona. This doesn't sit well with Loharri, the Mechanic who created Mattie and still has the key to her heart - literally.

Sedia's exquisitely bleak vision deliberately skewers familiar ideas from know-it-all computers to talking statues desperate for souls, leaving readers to reach their own conclusions about the proper balance of tradition and progress and what it means to be alive.”

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Happy reading!