From Russia with love
The film version of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina opens tonight - but which modern Russian books should we be reading?
If you’ve been swept up in the anticipation for the cinematic release of Tolstoy’s tangled masterpiece Anna Karenina – if it indeed had you russia’n for a seat – why not try our suggestions for the best modern Russian novels you've never read.
The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
The first of a four book trilogy, this tale has enjoyed its own fair share of film adaptations. Darkness and light collide on the cold streets of modern-day Moscow as watchers of the day and night battle for supremacy under an uneasy truce. Humanity, philosophy and the supernatural are all wrapped up in this chilling read that crackles with tension. The Independent called it: ‘‘modern, new and distinctly creepy’’.
Babylon by Victor Pelevin
Set in 1970s Russia, Babylon is the story of failed poet, Babylen Tatarsky, who is bumbling his way through the world of advertising, trying to flog Western products. With surreal appearances from hallucinated ancient dragons and the disembodied voice of Che Guevera, Babylon translates into an oddball read. The cover itself warns: ‘‘any thought that occurs in the process of reading this book is subject to copyright. Unauthorised thinking of it is prohibited.’’ Titled Generation P in Russia, this is a very modern work of sharpened social satire.
Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin
Having begun by publishing underground samizdat fiction at the beginning of his career, postmodernist writer Sorokin is now being hailed as Russia’s greatest living author. Finished in 2008, Ice Trilogy interweaves fantasy, absurdity and history into one madcap and peculiarly Russian read. Ambitious and eccentric.
Medea and Her Children by Ludmila Ulitskaya
Fired from her position as a scientist at the Soviet Institute of Genetics for illegal printing at her workplace in the 1970s, Ulitskaya now writes successful, historically rich tales with a vein of black humour. Medea and Her Children was published in English in 2004. Set in Crimea, this is a tale of war, family and being Russian in the 20th century.
Babylon by Victor Pelevin is published by Faber. The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko is published by Arrow. Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin is published by NYRB Classics. Medea and Her Children by Ludmila Ulitskaya is published by Schocken.