May 05, 2009

Must See Films, Must Read Fiction

In our 100th issue, we have a long feature, "100 Things Everyone Should Know About Russia," with loads of factoids, notes, lists and essays. We figured our list of the "must read" fiction and "must see" movies would be a bit contentious (and certainly foreshortened). So we are posting the lists here for reader comment and supplementation...

10 Must Read Novels

Everyone knows Lev Tolstoy's War and Peace and Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment. But here are ten lesser-known works of Russian fiction that are essential (not listed in any order of precedence).

  • A Hero for Our Time, Mikhail Lermontov
  • Yevgeny Onegin, Alexander Pushkin
  • The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
  • The Zone, Sergei Dovlatov
  • Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol
  • House on the Embankment, Yuri Trifonov
  • The Twelve Chairs, Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn[1]
  • Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov[2]
  • Moscow to the End of the Line, Venedikt Erofeyev

10 Essential Short Stories

  • Heart of a Dog, Mikhail Bulgakov[1]
  • Hadji Murat, Lev Tolstoy[1]
  • The Overcoat, Nikolai Gogol
  • Envy, Yuri Olesha[1]
  • Gooseberries, Anton Chekhov
  • The Elagin Affair, Ivan Bunin
  • The Nose, Nikolai Gogol
  • Life with an Idiot, Viktor Erofeyev
  • Sonechka, Lyudmila Ulitskaya
  • The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea, Nikolai Leskov

[1] Technically, these are novellas, or povesti, but we classified them as we thought of them.
[2] Yes, this was written in English, but we felt it essential to have a Nabokov contribution on the list.

20 Must See Films

There are hundreds of excellent Russian films that are invaluable for understanding Russia, for picking up on important cultural knowledge. Every film lover will have their own list. These are 20 that we feel every Russophile should see. The choice is limited to films that are available with English language subtitles.

  • Aelita, by Iakov Protazanov (1924)
  • Battleship Potemkin, by Sergei Eisenstein (1925)
  • The Circus, by Grigory Alexandrov (1936)
  • The Fall of Berlin, by Mikhail Chiaureli (1949)
  • The Cranes are Flying, by Mikhail Kalatozov (1957)
  • Andrei Rublyov, by Andrei Tarkovsky (1966)
  • Diamond Arm, by Leonid Gaidai (1968)
  • White Sun of the Desert, by Vladimir Motyl (1970)
  • Belorussky Train Station, by Andrei Smirnov (1970)
  • Gentlemen of Fortune, by Alexander Sery (1972)
  • 17 Moments of Spring, by Tatyana Lyuznova (1973)
  • Irony of Fate, by Eldar Ryazanov (1975)
  • Slave of Love, by Nikita Mikhalkov (1976)
  • Mimino, by Georgi Daneliya (1977)
  • The Assent, by Larissa Shepitko (1977)
  • An Ordinary Miracle, by Mark Zakharov (1978)
  • >Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, by Vladimir Menshov (1980)
  • Repentance, by Tengiz Abuladze (1984)
  • Brother, film by Alexei Balabanov (1997)
  • Gloss, Andrei Konchalovsky (2007)
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Some of Our Books

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
Marooned in Moscow

Marooned in Moscow

This gripping autobiography plays out against the backdrop of Russia's bloody Civil War, and was one of the first Western eyewitness accounts of life in post-revolutionary Russia. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of one woman's entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and accounts of the author's increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.
A Taste of Russia

A Taste of Russia

The definitive modern cookbook on Russian cuisine has been totally updated and redesigned in a 30th Anniversary Edition. Layering superbly researched recipes with informative essays on the dishes' rich historical and cultural context, A Taste of Russia includes over 200 recipes on everything from borshch to blini, from Salmon Coulibiac to Beef Stew with Rum, from Marinated Mushrooms to Walnut-honey Filled Pies. A Taste of Russia shows off the best that Russian cooking has to offer. Full of great quotes from Russian literature about Russian food and designed in a convenient wide format that stays open during use.
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
93 Untranslatable Russian Words

93 Untranslatable Russian Words

Every language has concepts, ideas, words and idioms that are nearly impossible to translate into another language. This book looks at nearly 100 such Russian words and offers paths to their understanding and translation by way of examples from literature and everyday life. Difficult to translate words and concepts are introduced with dictionary definitions, then elucidated with citations from literature, speech and prose, helping the student of Russian comprehend the word/concept in context.
Woe From Wit (bilingual)

Woe From Wit (bilingual)

One of the most famous works of Russian literature, the four-act comedy in verse Woe from Wit skewers staid, nineteenth century Russian society, and it positively teems with “winged phrases” that are essential colloquialisms for students of Russian and Russian culture.
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

Faith & Humor: Notes from Muscovy

A book that dares to explore the humanity of priests and pilgrims, saints and sinners, Faith & Humor has been both a runaway bestseller in Russia and the focus of heated controversy – as often happens when a thoughtful writer takes on sacred cows. The stories, aphorisms, anecdotes, dialogues and adventures in this volume comprise an encyclopedia of modern Russian Orthodoxy, and thereby of Russian life.

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