Famous Russian Authors Worth Reading: a chronological list – Part 5

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The Russian authors mentioned in the previous part of the list can be found here.

Anna Akhmatova – 1889 – 1966

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Anna Akhmatova is one of the greatest Russian authors of the 20th century, being known for both her short lyric poems and her structured cycles. Her writing style can be described as economic and laconic, differentiating itself from the ones of Akhmatova’s contemporaries.

Her early works consist of romantic poems in which the theme of love is intermingled with sadness. The range and complexity of emotions experienced in love affairs is depicted by making use of a simple language, thus producing a rupture between the typical ornate style of other authors of the time. The attention to details which are endowed with deeper meaning and the psychological associations which can be made transform these poems into truly unique works of art.

After the outbreak of World War I, Akhmatova’s style began to shift, the poet turning to civic and prophetic themes and creating lyrics of a strong patriotic sentiment, in which she talks about the beautiful land of Russia being destructed by war and revolution. Another theme which begins to be exploited during this period is the one of emigration, Anna being determined to remain in her native country in spite of any atrocities she had to face, unlike many of her friends who chose departure. In poem When in suicidal anguish Anna writes about her own temptation to leave and her resistance to the shameful calling of betraying her country. In 1935 she begins working at the tragic cycle Requiem, an elegy which she finishes three decades later, that depicts the horrors suffered by people during the Soviet Great Terror. In 1940 she starts working at Poem without a Hero, which is dedicated to those who died during the Siege of Leningrad. Described by Isaiah Berlin as a “tragic queen”, Akhmatova remained in Russia in order to be able to act as witness for the events around her and managed to transmit her poetic message in spite of the oppression she had to face.

Boris Pasternak – 1890 – 1960

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Boris Pasternak is a Russian author who is best known for his symbolistic and futuristic poems and for the novel Doctor Zhivago, which was awarded with the Nobel Prize for Literature.

One of the greatest Russian post-revolutionary poets, Pasternak astonishes his readers by making use of an especially melodious rhythm through which he produces ‘musical’, harmonious writings. His first volume of poetry, My Sister, Life, is composed of poems about love, nature, but also about the turmoil which preceded the October Revolution.

After realizing that an association with the futurists would impose restrictions to his unique style and would limit its diversity, the author chose to break up with their tradition and began to focus on translations. After 1930, he developed a more classical writing style which can be observed in his novel Doctor Zhivago, which was completed after forty years. This masterpiece takes the form of both a collection of impressions of the war and a tumultuous love life, inspired by the author’s personal experience. The story unfolds between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and World War II and follows the tragic experiences of physician and poet Yuri Zhivago. The novel raises questions of philosophy, religion, and also focuses on other problems of the Russian society of the time, such as poverty, alcoholism or persecution.

Mikhail Bulgakov – 1891 – 1940

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Bulgakov is a Russian playwright, novelist and short-story writer, renowned for his comic satires through which he critiques various aspects of Russian society or addresses more general matters, such as the risks involved in the development of science. His writings are concerned with the nature of good and evil or life and death, with the tragic destiny of artists and the relationship between them and power, with the corruption and hypocrisy which are characteristic for the cultural elite of the time or with the horrors faced by people during the Russian Civil War. Some of his most famous works include the fantasy novel The Master and Margarita, the plays The White Guard, Ivan Vasilievich and The Days of the Turbins or the expressionistic novellas The Fatal Eggs and Heart of a Dog.

In his satirical writings, Bulgakov expresses irony by maintaining the tradition of realism and his fantasy stories are centred around the ordinary events occurring in the every-day life, which are described in every detail, but which are eventually disrupted by supernatural happenings that destroy de regular mechanism of a normal functioning. The peculiar atmosphere created is uncanny as a result of the use of images which stimulate all senses, like the heavy smell of the matches which predict the apparition of the devil in The Master and Margarita. Another trademark of this writer is the importance he attributes to fortune and superstitions in his stories. A famous example is the science-fiction novella The Fatal Eggs, where zoologist Vladimir Persikov discovers the “ray of life” by accident; the tragic events that occur are also the result of misfortune, as the reptile eggs end up being hit by the ray instead of the chicken eggs by accident, which causes a massive destruction. The theme of the unpredictable results of scientific experiments is also exploited in the novella Heart of a Dog, in which surgeon Preobrazhensky attempts to transform a dog into a human being.

Trough his humorous and often grotesque works, this Russian author determines the reader to deeply reflect on the most profound philosophical questions which have always been an enigma for the human mind, but also on the problematic aspects of the society of that time.

Russia has offered some of the greatest authors of all time and there are many other names which are equally important in both Russian and world literature, such as Alexandr Kuprin, Ivan Bunin, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Andrei Platonov or Mikhail Zoschenko. The Russian authors are definitely worth reading, as their unique styles and complex visions promise to enrich the mind and spirit and satisfy the demands of any type of reader, shedding a light on new paths which are worth discovering.

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