ANNA KARENINA, LEO TOLSTOY (1877)
A novel about Anna’s destructive love affair with Count Vronsky, which inevitably leads them from their first heady meeting at a ball to Anna’s expulsion from society and a terrible end. The novel is a masterpiece of tragic love and ranks among the greatest love stories of all time.
At the same time, Tolstoy balances the story of passion with Levin’s second half-autobiographical story of spirituality, which makes the book even more profound. Tolstoy fascinates with Anna’s sin, then educates with Levin’s virtue, who lives by simple human values (his marriage to Kiti, his faith in God, and the household).
WAR AND PEACE, LEO TOLSTOY (1869)
This epic novel, which revolves around Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, has it all. Tolstoy describes panoramic battle scenes as an expert, finds descriptions of every single feeling, feeling of hundreds of characters from all walks of life, and the portrayal of Prince Andrei, Natasha, and Pierre struggling with love and searching for the right path in life all make this book a favorite.
LOLITA, VLADIMIR NABOKOV (1955)
“Lolita, the light of my life, the fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.”
Thus, the author begins a shameful novel about Humbert, a middle-aged man who is obsessively in love with a twelve-year-old “nymphet,” Dolores Geis. He marries the girl’s mother and when she dies, he becomes Lolita’s father. Nabokov portrays love, power, and obsession in a bold, shocking, yet amusing style.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY (1866)
At the height of the summer heat in St. Petersburg, former student Raskolnikov commits literature’s most famous crime, murdering with an ax the old moneylender and her sister, Lizaveta. What follows is a psychological “chess match” between Raskolnikov and the cunning detective, who pushes the anti-hero to atone for his sins and confess his wrongdoing.
Crime and Punishment is philosophical and psychological at the same time, showing freedom and power, suffering and madness, disease and destiny, as well as the pressure of the modern urbanized world on the human soul.
THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY (1880)
In his consummate novel, Dostoyevsky describes the complex spiritual problems of the nineteenth century, through the story of three brothers and the murder of their father. The hedonistic Dmitri, the inquisitive intellectual Ivan, and the righteous Alyosha embody different philosophical positions among all mankind. Issues such as free will, secularism, and the uniqueness of Russia’s destiny will be asserted not through authorial polemics, but the confessions, denunciations, and nightmares of the characters themselves.
The merciless depiction of human vice and weakness ultimately gives the novel the appearance of redemption. Dostoevsky’s passion, doubt, and imaginative power make even the secular West despise him.
DEAD SOULS, NIKOLAI GOGOL (1842)
This work, designated by Gogol as a “poem,” mocks the ambitions of Chichikov, who travels the country buying “dead souls” of serfs who are listed on documents as living. The poem mocks Russian bureaucracy, social ranks, and serfdom. Dead Souls also takes off as Gogol’s portrait of “all of Russia,” “Isn’t that how you, Russia, that perky, unaccelerated troika, are rushing along?” before which other countries “squint, shun and give her way.”
MASTER AND MARGARITA BY MIKHAIL BULGAKOV (1966)
Bulgakov expressed his entire experience of Stalinist censorship in a surrealistic fable featuring three characters:
- an unnamed author, the Master, whose work is refused to be published,
- his self-sacrificing married mistress Margarita,
- the embodiment of Satan, Woland, simultaneously organizing and interpreting their destinies.
The ambiguity of good and evil is hotly debated in a complex satirical novel about the threats to art in a hostile material world and its paradoxical survival (symbolized by the climactic statement that “manuscripts do not burn”).
THE IDIOT BY FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY (1867-1869)
The epileptic Prince Myshkin returns to Russia from a Swiss hospital, a man of remarkable kindness, meekness, and a subtle psychologist who can talk to anyone and see more in everyone than anyone else. In St. Petersburg, the prince develops relationships with the merchant Parfyon Rogozhin, the fatal beauty Nastasia Philippovna Barashkova and the progressive young lady Aglaya Epanchin.
Generals and beggars, merchants and beggar aristocrats encounter the strange prince – and each of them reveals himself most unexpectedly, changes reveals himself in a new way. Crooks and liars turn out to be unhappy people, drunkards and loudmouths – humiliated and insulted. But these transformations cannot change the lives of the characters, they remain the same as they were, and the prince himself finally loses his mind in the finale.
Dostoyevsky intended to show an ideal man, Christ-like; the world in which he has to exist takes over from virtue, and he cannot change it. The novel, poorly received by his contemporaries, has been hailed by posterity as one of Dostoevsky’s most powerful statements.
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