5 Riveting Reads Set in Russia

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Posted by Amanda Ellison

Some of my favourite books are set in Russia or the former Soviet Union: Dr Zhivago, Dead Souls, Anna Karenina...  The list goes on. These are the types of books that inspired my trip to Russia. All great books - but these tomes by Russian heavyweights are not exactly light entertainment.

A great introduction to Russian literature is through the proliferation of short stories, a form that found its home in this unique and enigmatic nation. Anton Chekhov, for example, is widely regarded as the master of the short story and wrote in the region of 500 of them! But if even these translations seem a step too far, then Russia has long been a popular setting for writers whose first language is English.

So if a flavour of the mystique that lurks behind the one-time 'Iron Curtain' is more your cup of tea then you can't go wrong with my terrific top five!

1. David Benioff, City of Thieves

This is what Amazon has to say: 

From the writer of the award-winning Game of Thrones series for HBO based on the books of George R. R. Martin.

'David Benioff is an exceptional storyteller . . . CITY OF THIEVES is tender, illuminating, and, be warned, often shocking.' Khaled Hosseini

Four months into the siege of Leningrad, the city is starving. Seventeen-year-old Lev fears for his life when he is arrested for looting the body of a dead German paratrooper, while his charismatic cellmate, Kolya, a handsome young soldier arrested for desertion, seems bizarrely unafraid.

Dawn brings, instead of an execution squad, an impossible challenge. Lev and Kolya can find a dozen eggs for an NKVD colonel to use for his daughter's wedding cake, and live. Or fail, and die.

In the depths of the coldest winter in history, through a city cut off from all supplies and suffering appalling deprivation, man and boy embark on an absurd hunt. Their search will take them through desolate, lawless Leningrad and the devastated countryside surrounding it, in the captivating journey of two men trying to survive against desperate odds

2. Tom Rob Smith, Child 44

This is what Amazon has to say:

OVER 2 MILLION COPIES SOLD

MOSCOW, 1953.
Under Stalin’s terrifying regime, families live in fear. When the all-powerful State claims there is no such thing as crime, who dares disagree?

AN INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER IN OVER 30 LANGUAGES

An ambitious secret police officer, Leo Demidov believes he’s helping to build the perfect society. But when he uncovers evidence of a killer at large – a threat the state won’t admit exists – Demidov must risk everything, including the lives of those he loves, in order to expose the truth.

A THRILLER UNLIKE ANY YOU HAVE EVER READ

But what if the danger isn’t from the killer he is trying to catch, but from the country he is fighting to protect?

3. Amor Towles, A Gentleman in Moscow

This is what Amazon has to say:

On 21 June 1922, Count Alexander Rostov - recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt - is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.

Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely. But instead of his usual suite, he must now live in an attic room while Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval.

Can a life without luxury be the richest of all?

 

 

4. AD Miller, Snowdrops

This is what Amazon has to say:

SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2011

Snowdrops. That's what the Russians call them - the bodies that float up into the light in the thaw. Drunks, most of them, and homeless people who just give up and lie down into the whiteness, and murder victims hidden in the drifts by their killers.

Nick has a confession. When he worked as a high-flying British lawyer in Moscow, he was seduced by Masha, an enigmatic woman who led him through her city: the electric nightclubs and intimate dachas, the human kindnesses and state-wide corruption. Yet as Nick fell for Masha, he found that he fell away from himself; he knew that she was dangerous, but life in Russia was addictive, and it was too easy to bury secrets - and corpses - in the winter snows..

5. Sarah Quigley, The Conductor

This is what Amazon has to say:

June 1941: Nazi troops surround the city of Leningrad, planning to shell and starve the people into submission. Most of the cultural elite is evacuated, but the famous composer Shostakovich stays behind to defend his city.

That winter, the bleakest in Russian history, the Party orders Karl Eliasberg, the shy, difficult conductor of a second-rate orchestra, to prepare for the task of a lifetime. He is to conduct a performance of Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony – a haunting, defiant new piece, which will be relayed by loudspeakers to the front lines.

Eliasberg's musicians are starving, and scarcely have the strength to carry their instruments. But for five freezing months the conductor stubbornly drives on his musicians, depriving those who falter of their bread rations. Slowly the music begins to dissolve the nagging hunger, the exploding streets, the slow deaths... but at what cost? Eliasberg's relationships are strained, obsession takes hold, and his orchestra is growing weaker. Now, it's a struggle not just to perform but to stay alive

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