In honor of Robin Bridge's The Morning Star tour, Jess and I have put together two posts about Russian film adaptations and Russian literature. Be sure to check out our official post for The Morning Star and Jess's post on Russian films!
(Pictured: Leo Tolstoy hard at work)
#3: The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakaov
If this all sounds confusing, that just demonstrates Bulgakov’s incredible skill as he somehow weaves these elements together into something unique and utterly majestic. The novel is filled with all manner of bizarre supernatural happenings, yet somehow all of it adds to the humanness and relativity of the story.
The publication of the novel was a huge political and cultural event – the book was originally published during the midst of Soviet rule, and the utterly unique writing style, combined with the inclusion so many topics usually forbidden – the struggles of artistic creation, resistance to evil, religion, and far more– were sensational. Even today the novel maintains a devoted following in Russia and around the world as a living symbol of the triumph of artistic creativity over oppression and despair.
#2: War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace is famous (or, depending on how you look at it, infamous) for it’s incredible length and huge cast. There is no doubt that this is a demanding read in many ways, but trust me when I say that it is so very worth it. One of the greatest joys of reading is to participate in lives not our own, and War and Peace is near perfection. You will walk away feeling that you’ve lived out a full life with some of the most interesting people you'll ever meet, and seen for yourself the turnings of the wheel of history.
#1: The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are often held in counterpoint as two authors who have completely different literary styles, yet together convey the full richness of the Russian literary pantheon. Where the narrative of War and Peace spans generations, The Brothers Karamazov focuses on just a few momentous days in the history of one family in a small, rural town. The story follows the fate of the three sons of Fyodor Karamazov: the earnest and pious novice monk Alyosha, the brilliant but tormented intellectual Ivan, and the passionate, impulsive army officer Dmitri. The main arc of the plot follows a murder that shocks a small Russian town, and for which one of the brothers stands accused. But really, this is a story about question of family, faith, meaning, and the human spirit, and what role they played in the struggle for the soul of Russia as revolution drew near.
In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, the character Eliot Rosewater tells Billy Pilgrim that there is only one book which contains everything there is to know about life, and that book is The Brother’s Karamazov. I don’t think he’s that far off. Of the many books we read in our lives, there are many that we remember, some that stay with us long after we finish them, and a few that transform us completely. For myself, and for countless readers around the world, this is a book that left us forever changed.