Russian literature is complicated…and that’s why I like it

I have always been a reader. Ever since the earliest time I can remember I’ve held a book. My favorite thing was for my mom to take me to the library where I would spend as much time as allowed searching the shelves. Usually I left with at least three or four titles in hand, and always others I’d put on my ‘next time’ list. Every birthday or holiday that involved a gift of money, had me running to the B. Dalton Booksellers at the local mall. Every shelf held a story, a life, an adventure, and I wanted to be a part of it.

When I was younger I leaned towards Baby Sitters Club by Ann R Martin, and Sweet Valley Twins (and later Sweet Valley High) by Francine Pascal. There was a period where I went in for anything dramatic and sad, a book about a kid with leukemia? sign me up! I couldn’t get enough of glimpses at other sides of life. In high school I enjoyed reading the required Shakespeare, John Knowles, Ibsen, and All Quiet On The Western Front, all of which reside on my bookshelves today.

7 years ago I discovered a whole new category. While living in Germany, I frequently visited the book shop in the square where they had a decent selection of books in english. It was there that I came across the well known Anna Karenina by Tolstoy in the bargain bin. I knew about Tolstoy of course (who hasn’t taken a college english class and not learned about Tolstoy?), but I had never really read him. Anna Karenina seemed worthy of my few Euros.

I came home and that night after the kids went to bed, I started reading. And reading, and reading. Most people marvel when I say I couldn’t put it down; it was a page turner. People think I have to be joking. Tolstoy? A page turner?

But for me he is, and Anna Karenina is a yearly read for me, if not more often. There is just something about it. The complexity of the story, the multitude of characters, the time period perhaps; something makes me drop everything to hear what Stephan Arkadiach will say or do next. What is Vronsky really thinking? Is Karenin really that cold and unfeeling? Then there’s Kitty and her childish ways!

I’ve always been drawn to other cultures and especially other time periods, and I enjoy reading something that is different. Russian literature of Tolstoy’s time period is deep, complex, and full of societal changes and rules that I know nothing about. It’s a glimpse into a country I’m unlikely to ever visit. The wonderful thing is that Russian literature is still just as interesting in a contemporary setting as it was in an ancient one.

I watched the documentary Russia’s Open Book about the new literature coming out of Russia from Zakhar Prelipin, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, Anna Starbinets and Mariam Petrosyan. Authors whose life in Russia is reflected in their work, represented in their stories, and bringing a whole new world of Russian literature for future generations to study. I’m eagerly awaiting Ms Ulitskaya’s book Daniel Stein from the library and plan to purchase books by both Mr. Prelipin and Ms. Starabinets. Unfortunately Ms. Petrosyan’s award winning The House In Which is not currently available in english, though I really wish it was.

I enjoy complicated books, like Russian literature, biographies, historical non-fiction, and even an occasional ‘main-stream’ read. The story is always waiting for us, we just have to turn the page.

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