The Reading List
The challenge is simple – over the course of the centenary year, 2017, I plan to read several books, fiction and non-fiction, about the Russian Revolution to get a better understanding of this important period of history. For a fuller explanation, please look at my introductory post.
My initial reading list is shown below, and I’ll add links to my reviews when I do them. If I read any other relevant books, I’ll add them to the list as the year goes on.
History of the Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky (history)
Regarded by many as among the most powerful works of history ever written, this book offers an unparalleled account of one of the most pivotal and hotly debated events in world history. This book reveals, from the perspective of one of its central actors, the Russian Revolution’s profoundly democratic, emancipatory character.
Animal Farm by George Orwell (fiction)
“All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.”
This well-loved tale is, of course, a satire on the Soviet Communist system that still remains a powerful warning despite the changes in world politics since Animal Farm was first published.
Victor Serge was an anarchist who initially supported the Russian Revolution. He was also a writer of rare integrity, who left behind a remarkable eyewitness record in fiction, journalism, and above all his masterwork, Memoirs of a Revolutionary. In it he tells the story of how the Revolution unfolded, swept up an entire nation, and eventually failed.
When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his unhappy marriage in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, he has little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously, romantically entangled with Trotsky’s personal secretary.
John Reed’s eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution. A contemporary journalist writing in the first flush of revolutionary enthusiasm, he gives a gripping record of the events in Petrograd in November 1917, when Lenin and the Bolsheviks finally seized power. Reed’s account is the product of passionate involvement and remains an unsurpassed classic of reporting.
This epic tale about the effects of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath on a bourgeois family was not published in the Soviet Union until 1987. One of the results of its publication in the West was Pasternak’s complete rejection by Soviet authorities; when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 he was compelled to decline it.
Vast in scope, exhaustive in original research, written with passion, narrative skill, and human sympathy, A People’s Tragedy is a profound account of the Russian Revolution for a new generation. Distinguished scholar Orlando Figes presents a panorama of Russian society on the eve of the Revolution, and then narrates the story of how these social forces were violently erased.
The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov (fiction)
Drawing closely on Bulgakov’s personal experiences of the horrors of civil war, The White Guard takes place in Kiev, 1918, a time of turmoil and suffocating uncertainty as the Bolsheviks, Socialists and Germans fight for control of the city. It tells the story of the Turbins, a once-wealthy Russian family, as they are forced to come to terms with revolution and a new regime.
I can’t find an existing one that seems to be accepted as definitive and relatively unbiased, so I’m leaving this blank at the moment in the hopes that a new one may be published during the centenary. However, if anyone knows of a good one, please let me know.
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
A collection of stories set in Leningrad, Kirovsk and Grozny over the last eight decades. Although each story could easily be read on its own, they are so beautifully interlinked that the eventual effect is to create something that really must be considered a novel. And a wonderful novel too, full of tragedy and humour, and humanity.