Category Archives: Russian Literature

TBR: Dostoyevsky

To be read – Dostoyevsky – right after I finish The Wings of the Dove.

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Posted by on May 24, 2018 in 19th Century, fiction, Russian Literature


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Anna Karenina, the Film


The 2012 Anna Karenina is visually masterful and dramatically potent. Director Joe Wright‘s film adheres to Tolstoy‘s novel, but moves at a clip. Viewers get all the essential with out all many of the details of the masterpiece. It’s a good introduction to a must-read book. If you only watch the film, you won’t get all the details of life in the country-side and the social issues of the late 19th century. You will get the passion and momentum of a woman caught up in a scandalous affair, though the film moves so fast that you don’t get the full sense of the isolation she feels when she moves with Vronsky to the country.

The film’s strength for me was it the gorgeous visuals. Wright presents a different world, a story set on a stage much of the time, a stage that transports us and contains Anna’s world. I kept thinking of Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage . . . ” line. I’m sure I was meant to.

I read the book years ago and loved it. Anna Karenina is the story of a young, passionate woman married to a stern, coldly traditional man, who isn’t bad, but just has no idea how to love. Anna meets a dashing officer, Vronsky. Their paths cross in Moscow and though part of her wants to avoid an affair that will not only destroy her marriage, but will break the heart of Kitty, a young relative of hers by marriage, she can’t help it. (From Anna’s point of view she can’t. That’s debatable, of course.)

Vronsky and Anna aren’t good at hiding their love and in this society that will cost a woman everything. Bravo to Jude Law who plays Anna’s husband in a way that makes him complex. He’s technically in the right, but he does so in such a wrong way, he just does not understand his wife and probably never did. Karenina can’t help himself and while you sympathize, you know he’s making the problem worse. Keira Knightly stars as Anna and does the role justice. Matthew MacFayden plays Anna’s philandering brother Oblonsky with much gusto and comedy, which was a bit over the top for me. Just a little. Oblonsky is a brash character, but I was always aware that it was MacFayden playing a Russian, whereas Law dissolved into his character.

Downton Abbey fans will spy two cast members Michelle Dockery (Mary) and Thomas Howes (William, who died in WWI) appear.

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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in classic, Russian Literature




A friend mentioned WE a dystopian novel by Yevgeny Zamyatin. WE takes place in the th century and think of our era as the time of the Ancients. The One State governs and all the buildings are made of glass walls so there’s no privacy whatsoever. People don’t live in families and there’s no such thing as love or romance. You have an assigned (not forced or arranged, there’s some choice or regard for preferences) partner and have pink tickets that tell you what time and day you’re scheduled to have sex. Then you can lower your blinds. Children are raised in a state run institution and don’t feature much into people’s lives.

WE chronicles the life of D-503, a mathematician. To him math and numbers explain everything and are extremely beautiful and perfect. D-503 and his best friend, a poet, R-13 share a pinkish lover, O-90 who’s not permitted to have a child because she’s too short. Thus the society, the state guarantees perfect future generations. O-90’s nice enough, but when D-503 encounters the audacious, smoking, flirty, older I-330, he can’t say no and this unsanctioned affair leads him into conflict with the all powerful One State and its leader the Benefactor.

WE greatly influenced George Orwell to write 1984, a classic and bleaker story. (Not that WE offers a happy ending.) It’s an intriguing novel and Zamyatin definitely writes well. It’s a good addition to this sub genre. The feel of the novel is quite impersonal and rather clinical, but that’s the point.

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Posted by on August 10, 2012 in classic, Russian Literature


Theme Thursday: Mirror

Theme Thursdays is a fun weekly event that will be open from one Thursday to the next. Anyone can participate in it. The rules are simple:

  • A theme will be posted each week (on Thursday’s)
  • Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
  • Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post
  • It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word)
    Ex: If the theme is KISS; your sentence can have “They kissed so gently” or “Their lips touched each other” or “The smooch was so passionate”

This will give us a wonderful opportunity to explore and understand different writing styles and descriptive approaches adopted by authors.

The theme for this week is MIRROR Glasses, Spectacles, etc.


She got up and walked over to the mirrored door of the closet. . . . From the mirror to me: a sharp, mocking triangle of eyebrows, lifted slightly, to her eyebrows.

From WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin, p. 196


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From the Writer’s Almanac

Boris Pasternak during the First Congress of S...

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It was on this day in 1958 that the novel Doctor Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak (books by this author), was published in the United States. Doctor Zhivago isset during the Russian Revolution and World War I, and it tells the story of Yuri Zhivago, a doctor and poet, and his love for a woman named Lara. Pasternak worked on his novel for decades, and finished it in 1956. He submitted the book for publication, but although Pasternak was a famous writer by then, his manuscript was rejected —the publishers explained that Doctor Zhivago was not in line with the spirit of the revolution, too concerned with individualism. An Italian journalist visited Pasternak at his country house and convinced the novelist to let him smuggle a copy of Doctor Zhivago out of the country to the leftist Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli.

Pasternak is said to have declared as he handed over the manuscript: “You are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad!” He was not executed, but when the upcoming publication was announced in Italy, Soviet authorities were furious, and forced Pasternak to send Feltrinelli telegrams insisting that he halt publication of the novel. One of them said: “I have come to the profound conviction that what I wrote cannot be regarded as a finished work,” and in another Pasternak called his novel “in need of serious improvement.” But Feltrinelli was not fooled, and continued with publication.

Soon enough, Feltrinelli received a private, scribbled note from Pasternak begging him to continue. Pasternak wrote: “I wrote the novel to be published and read. That remains my only wish.” Feltrinelli published Doctor Zhivago, and helped get it published all over the world. The Soviet Union’s attempts to stop its publication only made it more interesting to readers. When it was first published in Italy in November of 1957, the first printing of 6,000 copies sold out within the first day.

Doctor Zhivago was published in the United States on this day in 1958, and even though it wasn’t published until September, it was the best-selling book of 1958. It quickly became a bestseller in 24 languages. Pasternak was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1958, and when he first head of the award, he sent a telegram to the Swedish Academy that said: “Immensely thankful, touched, proud, astonished, abashed.” Two days later, Soviet authorities forced him to write again, this time to say he would refuse the prize.

Pasternak died two years later, in 1960, and Doctor Zhivago was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988. Doctor Zhivago begins: “On they went, singing ‘Rest Eternal,’ and whenever they stopped, their feet, the horses, and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing. Passers-by made way for the procession, counted the wreaths, and crossed themselves. Some joined in out of curiosity and asked: ‘Who is being buried?’—’Zhivago,’ they were told.—’Oh, I see. That’s what it is.’—’It isn’t him. It’s his wife.’—’Well, it comes to the same thing. May her soul rest in peace. It’s a fine funeral.'”

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Posted by on September 5, 2011 in Russian Literature


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Dr. Zhivago

Last fall my EFL students read a simplified version of Doctor Zhivago and then we saw the movie. Our discussions were quite lively and it was interesting to delve into Russian history and literature. Thus I decided to read the novel this summer.

Both the movie and the graded reader leave out quite a bit from this hefty classic. I enjoyed getting every detail and event. A thoughtfully written novel is one of my favorite ways to come to know history. This novel, published in 1960, gives readers a close up at the enthusiasm, chaos, and violence surrounding the Russian Revolution.

Yes, the names are long and everyone’s got a nickname, but I got a sense of who’s who without a chart, maybe because I saw the movie first.

Most of the Russian literature, I’ve read has taken place before the Revolution, while Doctor Zhivago takes place before, during and after. What a time that was! Pasternak’s novel reminds me of Dickens because not only do readers see the hero’s journey, but we see so much of what happens throughout the society. I found that fascinating. So many people had so many struggles and tragedies.

The hero is Yurii . At the beginning of the story he’s a young boy who witnesses his father’s suicide. He’s adopted by relatives and marries his cousin Tonia, a lovely, smart woman. The sort of girl people think he should marry. (And he does agree.)

As a young man in Moscow and later after the revolution when Yurii’s out in the Ural Mountains, his path crosses that of Lara, an enigmatic, alluring, albeit troubled woman. Her father died when she was young and her mother becomes beholden to Komarovsky, a rich, powerful man who wants Lara when she’s in high school. Lara picks up on her mother’s implicit message that she should do what she needs to for the family. This action defines Lara making her feel a guilt she never completely overcomes. It taints her marriage to Pasha, an intelligent, innocent promising student she meets in university.

All the characters cross paths and influence each other as they strive to make sense of the confusion of the revolution that steamrolls over so many Russians back then. Pasternak constructs a masterful story full of drama and insight.

If you’re not sure about reading the book, try the film or the BBC miniseries.


Posted by on August 9, 2011 in classic, Russian Literature



Inspector General

My book club’s play for June was Gogol’s Inspector General. This farce is a very quick read that lampoons corruption in the provinces of pre-Revolution Russia. In its day, it probably packed quite a punch. Now it seems too far-fetched. I could predict the ending right from the set up. None of the characters grabbed me. I could appreciate the boldness and importance of this play in a previous era, but it’s not as enduring as Chekov. I wish we’d have read one of his plays. I need compelling characters.

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Posted by on June 26, 2011 in classic, drama, Russian Literature


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