Today's topic for Top Ten Tuesday is "Top Ten Books That Would Be On Your Syllabus If You Taught X 101". Since I am a die-hard Russophile, here are some picks for if I am ever asked to teach a course on 20th Century Russia; all of these books would complement the course materials. I chose some books by Russian / Soviet authors, as well as others by Western authors who have written about the area. There is one memoir on the list, but the rest are fiction.
1. Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore: I really liked this book by Montefiore, who is both a novelist and a historian. It covers the founding the USSR as well as the purges of the 1930s.
2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: Another look at the purges, but also a classic of Soviet literature that everyone should read.
3. Between Shades of Gray by Ruth Sepetys: This book covers the deportation of Lithuanian citizens to Siberia following the annexation of the Baltic States in 1939. I think it's important as there were a lot of ethnic groups deported internally during World War Two, and it's not widely known.
4. Russian Winter by Daphne Kolotay: A look at the post-war climate and the arts scene.
5. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: This is the definitive fiction piece on the Gulag system, and I think everyone should read a little Solzhenitsyn at some point. (Probably pick this book to start with, since his others are reallllly long. :P) Psst: If you're up for it, you can read more about the Gulag system in Anne Applebaum's fabulous Gulag: A History.
6. A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokova: A look at the later years of the USSR through the eyes of a citizen. I loved it too because of the focus on language learning.
7. The Free World by David Bezmozgis: This book covers the massive emigration of Soviet Jews in the 1980s.
8. Petropolis by Anya Ulinich: I didn't love this novel. I found it on sale at some point and was intrigued. It's not entirely my cup of tea, but it is a quirkly look at the post-Soviet era. If you really want to immerse yourself in the early years of the Russian Federation, with all its inflation and issues, try the movie Brat' ("Brother") starring Sergei Bodrov Jr. It's a guilty pleasure of mine, especially as it shows scenes from Vasilievsky Island, where I lived when I studied in St. Petersburg eleven years ago.
9. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra: A beautiful book which takes place in Chechnya and looks at the impact of the civil war there. Psst, here's another film recommendation: Prisoner of the Mountains (1996), also starring the late Sergei Bodrov Jr.
10. The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis: Oh, hey, let's keeping talking about how I like Bezmogis... This book is also relevant to contemporary Israeli politics and actually takes place in Ukraine; however, I included it because it looks back at the Jewish emigration noted above, and therefore is relevant to the topic. In addition, it covers a lot of heavy issues about how we deal with those who have wronged us, in particular in a totalitarian society, and how we engage with issues of historical blame and memory.
|Speaking of issues of historical memory, here's me with a bust of Lenin.|