Essential Books by Russia's Nobel Prize Winning Authors

© Culture Trip / Julianna Tetreault
© Culture Trip / Julianna Tetreault
Photo of Marta Wiejak
6 January 2018

Though Russia has long been famous for its literature, the total number of Russian authors to have received a Nobel Prize stands at just four. That said, the works which garnered them recognition are truly remarkable, offering a unique insight into Russian culture. Here’s your ultimate guide.

The Life of Arseniev by Ivan Bunin

The Life of Arseniev is a novel with autobiographical motifs, beautifully depicting the life in pre-revolutionary Russia. The novel depicts the life of Alexei Arsenev and his impossible love for Lika. The novel, just like Nabokov‘s Speak, Memory is a chronicle of Russia which doesn’t exist any more.

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Ivan Bunin in 1901 | © Courtesy of WIkiCommons

Short Stories by Ivan Bunin

Ivan Bunin was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his only novel, but he was mostly a short story writer. His stories contain small universes in themselves. They encapsulate perfectly small situations we know all too well. If you’re a fan of psychological realism, Bunin’s stories are worth your attention.

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Iven Bunin, The Gentleman from San Francisco and other stories | © 1922 Virginia Wolf, Richmond, England via WikiCommons

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Doctor Zhivago is a monumental novel set in the times of the November Revolution, the Civil War and the early Soviet period. It is a story of a life torn apart by history, yet it is also a story of love, jealousy and betrayal. Doctor Zhivago, awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, is Pasternak’s only novel. Throughout his life he wrote many poems and short stories, he also completed many literary translations.

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Doktor Zhivago in Russian | The Central Intelligence Agency / WikiCommons

And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov

Sholokhov was the only author sympathising with the Soviet authorities who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The novel which gained him the recognition was And Quiet Flows the Don, describing the life of the Cossacks in the period of the Civil War. The novel was announced to be one of the most important novels of the 20th century. Many modern critics believed Sholokov plagiarised the novel, but his authorship was eventually proven without a doubt.

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A page from the manuscript of Sholokhov's "And Quiet Flows the Don" | © WikiCommons

One Day in Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

One Day in Life of Ivan Denisovich was the first published work of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature for the entirety of his work in 1970. It tells the story of one day in the life of an inmate in a Soviet forced labour camp. The publication of the story in the journal ‘Novyi Mir’ was the very first case of an open distribution of an account of the Stalinist repressions.

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American edition of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich | © New American Library / WikiCommons

The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Gulag Archipelago is Solzhenitsyn’s most important and most monumental work. It depicts in detail the life in a Soviet penal colony. Solzhenitsyn based the novel not only on his own first-hand experience of the camps, but also on thorough research.

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The first edition of The Gulag Archipelago | © WikiCommons

In the First Circle by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In the First Circle is a novel which depicts a very specific kind of forced labour camps: the camps for intellectuals and engineers, who were forced to employ their talents to serve the needs of the Soviet empire. The conditions in those camps were thought to be significantly better than in others, hence why inmates referred to them as ‘the first circle’, by way of analogy to the first circle of hell in Dante’s Divine Comedy. In the First Circle draws an even fuller picture of the reality of Soviet forced labour camps.

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1974 | © Bert Verhoeff, Anefo / WikiCommons