5 Amazing Books Inspired by Russia

Our top five books inspired by Russia will kindle a desire to visit this impressive country.

April 2017 • Jules Verne

5 Amazing Books Inspired by Russia

Russia is the largest country on earth, and travelling across its huge and varied landscapes opens up a fascinating history and culture. Our top five books inspired by Russia will kindle a desire to visit this impressive country. One might also make the perfect book to take with you on your next tour of Russia. 

  1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is  one of the most influential works of literature in the world. It is also one of the longest. Anna Karenina may not be the most well-known of Tolstoy’s oeuvre, but it is a more accessible and – importantly for those who love to travel – portable work of fiction. In Anna Karenina, a story of jealousy, faith, desire and family is set against the changing social mores of 19th century Russia. The novel examines the ways in which relationships were changing during this tumultuous time. It is rightly considered to be a near perfect piece of literary art, and it is also a wonderful companion for your next tour of Russia. 

  1. Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier

Siberia, like Russia itself, is a land of extremes. Its temperatures, landscapes and size are awe-inspiring. This vast, little visited area encompasses the Arctic tundra of the North Pole and the sandy deserts of the Gobi. It is through these wild and impressive landscapes that Ian Frazier journeys in his book, Travels in Siberia. Reading this book, like much of Frazier’s work, is akin to travelling along with the writer as he explores the history, culture and character of Siberia. Indeed, this relatively uninhabited area of Russia produced some of its most influential citizens: Dostoyevsky, Lenin and Stalin. Frazier’s rambling narrative engagingly tells the story of these characters, but also of Siberia itself and its role in history. 

  1. The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean

In this novel, set in 1940s Leningrad and modern day Seattle, Debra Dean skilfully twists together threads of narrative to create a vivid picture of the life’s instabilities and vagaries. One of the central themes of the novel is Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on the mind of the sufferer, but also on others around them. Dean handles this painful subject carefully, but the narrative’s true beauty is in the depiction of Russian life during the Second World War. Sweeping descriptions and tiny details bring the scene to life. Marina, the novel’s protagonist, sees the city’s food stores get bombed, and suffers through the plummeting temperatures and starvation that follow. 

  1. The Master of Petersburg by J. M. Coetzee

Coetzee is a well-known South African novelist, but this book, The Master of Petersburg, has a distinctly Russian flavour. This novel weaves together various strands of narrative; the biography of Dostoyevsky, the broader sweep of Russian History, and lastly elements of Coetzee’s own life. This book is dense, difficult and sombre, all adjectives that are often associated with Russia. However, the darkness is pierced by flashes of brilliance: the clarity of the descriptions of St Petersburg, the insightful glimpses into Russian history, and the careful details about the lives of the characters bring life to the story. These moments lighten the load of this heavy novel, and they will also inspire the reader to visit Russia. 

  1. Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov

Invitation to a Beheading stands apart from other books on this list for several reasons. The novel is set within the four walls of a Russian prison cell. However, the internal logic of this setting is destroyed in Kafkaesque style. Nabokov’s narrative explores his well-trodden theme of the individual who attempts to live outside of the rules of society. This makes the novel much more internal than the other books we have recommended – busying itself more with the psyche of the Russian people and the zeitgeist of 1980s Russia than with the country itself. This is a captivating theme, which has only gathered layers of meaning in the years since the novel was initially written. Where Nabokov’s other novels have a distinctly American flavour, Invitation to a Beheading feels more intimately Russian. This Slavic feel makes the book the perfect read for your next tour of Russia.

Discover Russia for yourself on one of our tours, or find more travel inspiration through other posts in our Jules Verne Reads series.