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The Best of Russian Literature of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Alexander Pushkin and Eugene Onegin in Pushkin's drawing
Text by Alexandra Lyukina

Russian literature is a treasure that is available to everyone. It is a love story, and if you fall in love with it, it happens once and for all. There is so much depth and the wealth of meaning in it. It makes us think, learn, admire, feel empathy or resentment; it is very versatile and I want you to discover it with us in our series of posts about Russian writers!

Russian literature is one of my greatest passions since school and I studied it at university, so when our readers started asking us about Russian books, I realised that now we have another exciting topic to share with you.

There are plenty of short posts about "10 Russian books you need to read" and "Best Russian books to read before you die" (what a strange title) on the Internet and they remind us a solyanka – a Russian soup with all types of ingredients, as various epochs and writers are mixed up there and each book is marked by only a couple of phrases, that do not necessarily make you understand why you should read it.

Therefore, we decided to write about one or two writers in each post, in a chronological order, so that you could see the evolution of the Russian literature tradition and the life of the Russian society over that period. But more importantly, you can get an idea of what these books are about and what makes them so special. We will start from the first half of the 19th century and continue to mid-20th century.
Photo from War and Peace Adaptation by S. Bondarchuk (1960-s)
Photo from War and Peace Adaptation by S. Bondarchuk (1960-s)

Translations and Film Adaptions of Russian Literature

The Russian language from the books of Russian classics is easy to understand for us now, as it has not changed grammatically much since the 19th century. We can thoroughly enjoy reading them as we don't spend much time checking out footnotes or dictionaries. It is nothing like reading Cervantes or Shakespeare in original, which must be a more complicated process.

As for the translations of the Russian literature in your language, of course, some nuances will be lost, especially in case with English, but generally, most publishers choose translations of a very good quality that preserve to some extent the author's manner of writing and they definitely preserve more than many modern film adaptations.

To tell you the truth, I cannot watch foreign film adaptations of Russian classics, as I usually want to cry from despair on the 5th minute of screening, and I am not alone in that, but, on the other hand, they introduce some of the greatest Russian novels to a wider audience and arouse genuine interest toward Russian culture, which is not bad at all!

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