Russian Reading Roulette

The big trip is coming up soon.  I leave for Japan on Friday.  3 Months exploring Asia and Eastern Europe.

In preparation for my visit to Russia and Ukraine I’ve been reading some Russian and Ukrainian books.  I think you always get more out of a visit to the country if you know a bit of history.  Plus I like to have read some popular authors from that country.

Of course Russia has plenty of the giants of literature (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pushkin, etc).  I haven’t read them this time, I’ve been aiming at more contemporary work.

Some of the books I’ve read recently:

* The Sacred Book of the Werewolf

Victor Pelevin

A Chinese fox spirit working in Moscow as a prostitute gets involved with a Russian werewolf.  It started off interestingly and has some fun ideas, but the story drags to a halt to allow for an endless amount of philosophical discussion. (I like philosophical asides, but some story action is also appreciated).

* The Winter Queen

Boris Akunin

The first in a series of very popular Russian detective novels.  The historical detail is interesting, but I found the main character unlikeable and the prose stilted.

*A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

Marina Lewycka

An elderly pensioner living in the UK brings over a young Ukrainian wife.  Some humorous moments, but wasn’t a standout for me.

* Death and the Penguin

Andrey Kurkov

In synopsis it sounds great: a Ukrainian obituary writer lives with a penguin (because the local zoo couldn’t afford to feed it).  His editor asks him to prepare obituaries of well-known public figures in advance and then these people start dying.

But it’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds and I lost interest halfway through.

* Putin’s Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy

Anna Politkovskaya

A Russian journalist’s look at the nastier aspects of the Russian political and military systems.  The writer was murdered on Putin’s birthday, a couple of years after the book came out.

* Russia: A Journey to the Heart of a Land and Its People

Jonathan Dimbleby

Some interesting historical details, but the writer spends a lot of time complaining and although he does lots of interviews with people all over Russia, he can’t seem to ask them anything except whether they think they live in a democratic country.

* Stalingrad

Antony Beevor

All the details you could ever want about the siege of Stalingrad, supposedly the battle that has cost the most lives in human history.  Grim, but fascinating reading.  Great source material if you wanted to write a battlefront story.

So, overall the fiction was pretty disappointing.  I still have The Secret History of Moscow (Ekaterina Sedia) and The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov) to read.

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One comment on “Russian Reading Roulette
  1. janet says:

    Did you catch up with the kidnapping and murder of a female colleague of Anna Politkovskaya this week?

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