7 Literary Masterpieces That Every Russian Knows

© Gellinger / Pixabay
© Gellinger / Pixabay
Photo of Olga Glioza
7 December 2017

As well as the maestros of Russian literature – Dostoevsky, Pushkin and Tolstoy – there are a number of authors whose masterpieces are read at school in Russia, and sometimes even learnt by heart. Here’s our definitive selection of seven literary masterpieces that absolutely every Russian knows.

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

This is probably the most well-known Russian saga, both in Russia and abroad. The epic story of the 1812 war with Napoleon is the background to several dramatic love storylines that develop at the same time. It’s been said that the main female character of the novel, Natasha Rostova, was created as the ‘ideal’ of Russian woman of the 19th century. Her personality is extremely positive and captivating, and the author has most of the male characters fall in love with her, although as time passes and the story evolves, we see huge changes in all characters and their life views. Tip for those who don’t feel like reading the whole book: there are multiple movies based on this book, including the most recent one released in 2016.

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Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

This captivating psychological thriller leads the reader to the inner world of the main character, Raskolnikov. Not being a violent person by nature, he committed a serious crime, and his own mind and reflections about the event become his worst punishment. The book was written by Dostoevsky in St Petersburg. Inspired by the city, Dostoevsky put his characters into real life settings, so when travelling to St Petersburg, be sure to check out the settings.

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Cover of first edition of "Crime and Punishment" Image source: WikiCommons

Evgenyi Onegin, Alexander Pushkin

This story is one of that Russians know by heart – well, at least, some parts of it. The character of Evgeniy Onegin and his story with Tatyana, created by the literary genius of Alexander Pushkin, have become a part of national culture, even inspiring the creation of the whole opera based on Pushkin’s poetry. Written in 1831, the touching love story of young girl Tatyana and Onegin continues to be controversial and captivating, even in 2017.

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Dead Souls, Nikolay Gogol

Bureaucracy, bribes and more are the focus of this almost-detective story by Nikolay Gogol. Written between 1835-1841, it illustrates how the bureaucratic system used to work in Russian Empire. The reader follows the journey of Chichikov, and throughout the story discovers more and more peculiar details. Once published, the book became known for showing some of the most burning issues of the system of a time, and continues to be current even today. The surname of the main character even inspired the special term – “chichikovshina” – as the cristallisation of bribing and bureaucracy.

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Woe from Wit, Alexander Griboedov

Short and snappy, this poetry-based book, written between 1822-1824, has quickly brought the fame and recognition to Alexander Griboedov, and multiple phrases from the book have become aphorisms. The whole story was written in a sarcastic way to highlight the problems of the society of the time. This is masterfully done through the main character, Alexander Chatskyi. After three years of travels, Chatskyi returns to his beloved Sofia, but instead of compassion and understanding, finds out that he doesn’t belong to society and leaves once again, for good.

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The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

Written in a period of Soviet censure, this book has become an immortal inspiration for many generations. Having started the novel in the 1920s, Bulgakov was working on it up until his death. It is one of his unfinished masterpieces, and the first publication of the novel was made possible only in 1967. The breathtaking love story between Margarita and her Master, with the background of the eternal battle between light and dark, makes for compelling reading. The discussion about eternally familiar topics is set in Soviet-era Moscow, and is filled with authentic language and details of a daily Moscovite life of that time. When in Moscow, be sure to visit some of the places where the story was set.

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First edition of "Master and Margarita" Image source: WikiCommons

Oblomov, Ivan Goncharov

The ultimate story of procrastination follows Oblomov, a Russian aristocrat who has all the means to achieve whatever he wants. Instead, Oblomov spends all his life on a sofa, just daydreaming before he finally loses his mind. Initially written as a satire on Russian society of the 19yh century, in 2017 it serves as a great personal motivation book. This is a great book to read if you feel like you’ve been postponing and procrastinating too much recently – the story will instantly reignite your desire to work and get things done.

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