12 Russian Authors Every Language Learner Should Read

Russian authors

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Russian literature is world-famous for its classical authors such as Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, but there are many more fantastic Russian writers whose works can help you learn Russian and enjoy the process. Read the following twelve Russian authors to better understand Russian culture and lifestyle and to improve your language skills, whether you are a beginner or an advanced speaker.

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Vladimir Nabokov

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Although Nabokov is best known in the West for his novel "Lolita," it is his Russian-language writing that is most useful for language learners, particularly his autobiographical novel "Другие берега" (Other Shores), in which the author describes the lost world of his childhood in minute detail and breathtaking language.

Nabokov wrote the English-language version of his memoir, "Speak, Memory," published under the title of "Conclusive Evidence" in the U.S., before translating and reworking it into Russian. Although the versions are not identical, reading the English-language memoir before tackling the Russian one can be helpful if you are a beginner.

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Guzel Yakhina

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Yakhina was a breakthrough winner of the Big Book, Russia's top literary prize, in 2015, with her debut novel "Зулейха открывает глаза" (Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes). The novel explores the life of a dekulakized Tatar woman Zuleikha, who is forcibly removed from her village and sent to Siberia as part of the dekulakization program in 1930s.

Yakhina's second novel, "Дети мои" (My Children), focuses on a Russian German man who brings up a daughter in a remote village, also in 1920-1930s, and writes fairy tales that turn into reality.

Yakhina is a wonderful writer for those learners who want to explore the multi-national and historical angles of Russia.

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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Solzhenitsyn's political novels drawn from his experiences in the Soviet Gulag camps earned him the reputation of a dissident and, eventually, an expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1974. He believed that it was his duty to record the experiences of the 20th century Russians.

Language learners will appreciate the minutiae descriptions of everyday camp life, as well as short, precise sentences and prison slang.

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Zakhar Prilepin

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Prilepin's politically charged books are great for those wanting to explore the themes of the Chechen war and post-Soviet life. His first novel, "Патологии" (Pathologies), focuses on a young man serving in the спецназ (Spetsnaz) during the Chechen war, and draws on Prilepin's own experiences. Other novels, inlcuding "Грех" (Sin) and "Санька" (Sanka) are also political and full of energy, and can be an excellent resource for readers at intermediate and advanced levels of Russian.

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Tatyana Tolstaya

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Tatyana Tolstaya is one of the best known Russian contemporary writers. She is the granddaughter of the Soviet-era author Alexey Tolstoy, and is a celebrity in Russia, in part due to her TV work as the co-host of a popular show "Школа злословия" (The School for Scandal).

Tolstaya's books have been translated into English, so beginner learners can read them in translation first before tackling the Russian versions. Tolstaya's style is witty, often full of mythical or fantastic elements and fascinating characters. Her most well-known novel in the West, "Кысь" (The Slynx), presents a surreal dystopian Russia imagined 200 years after an event called The Blast.

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Lyudmila Ulitskaya

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An internationally acclaimed writer, Ulitskaya is known for her acerbic wit and vivid characters. Her first novella, "Сонечка" (Sonechka), was nominated for the Russian Booker Prize 1993, while "Казус Кукоцкого" (The Kukotsky Case) won the Russian Booker Prize 2001.

Read Ulitskaya to deepen your understanding of the Soviet and post-Soviet Russia, as well as significantly expand your vocabulary.

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Mikhail Lermontov

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Lermontov's "Герой нашего времени" (Hero of Our Times) is a great resource for learners who are curious about the 19th century Russia, and particularly the time of the Caucasian War. Hailed as the first significant prose Russian novel, the book explores the life of a narcissistic, brooding young officer Pechorin through anecdotes told by his once comrade-in-arms, as well as the narrator's own eyes and finally, through Pechorin's revealing journals.

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Olga Slavnikova

Born in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), Slavnikova combines the local folklore of Ural with fantasy and suspense. Her novel "2017" won the 2006 Russian Booker Prize, while "Легкая голова" (Light Head) was shortlisted for both the Russian Booker Prize and the Big Book 2011.

Writing in a clear voice full of metaphors, Slavnikova is a must-read for any Russian learner.

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Anatoly Aleksin

Called the patriach of Soviet children's literature, and chosen as one of the three UNESCO best children authors of the 20th century, together with Mark Twain and A. A. Milne, Aleksin wrote about the everyday life of the Soviet child and teenager. His books explore the themes of family and society, and combine realism and romanticism, with a lot of detailed description of Soviet life. This, and his cult status for any Russian who grew up in the Soviet Union, make Aleksin a fantastic author for language learners of all levels. Begin with his novella "Мой брат играет на кларнете" (My Brother Plays The Clarinet).

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Narine Abgaryan

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Narine Abgaryan is an Armenian-Russian writer. Her books are filled with sun, funny girls and scary but kind grandmas, countless relatives, silly and mischievous situations, and happiness mixed with nostalgia, while exploring themes of war, family and survival.

Begin with "Манюня" (Manyunya), a novel about two girls, Manyunya and her friend Nara, and their adventures. Abgaryan is great for learners of Russian who want to expand their vocabulary while giggling at the author's humorous writing.

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Valery Zalotukha

Zalotukha is better known as a screenwriter, but his novels, in particular the two-tome "Свечка" (The Candle), are a valuable tool for anyone wanting to understand life in contemporary Russia. Written over a twelve-year period, the novel explores the post-Soviet Russia, and received the second prize in the Big Book Prize (Большая книга).

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Arkady and Boris Strugatsky

The brothers Strugatsky are best known to the English-language reader for their novella "The Roadside Picnic" (Пикник на обочине), a sci-fi exploration of a world post The Visitation, a visit from aliens.

Considered to be the fathers of Russian science fiction, the Strugatsky created a massive body of work, including at least 26 novels, as well as stories and plays. Starting off as somewhat utopian future-world projections of what an ideal communist society may look like, the later works made cleverly disguised criticisms of the realities of Soviet life.

Russian language learners will enjoy the imaginary worlds and sci-fi plots of the novels, while expanding their slang and technological vocabulary.

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Nikitina, Maia. "12 Russian Authors Every Language Learner Should Read." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/russian-authors-4579875. Nikitina, Maia. (2020, August 29). 12 Russian Authors Every Language Learner Should Read. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/russian-authors-4579875 Nikitina, Maia. "12 Russian Authors Every Language Learner Should Read." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/russian-authors-4579875 (accessed June 1, 2023).