And what do you say about Russian writers of the 20th century?
the woman asked.
I answered without thinking twice.
1 Leo Tolstoy
We should start with Tolstoy.
After all, Tolstoy lived just ten years into the 20th century.
She shone in her erudition.
Because he prepared the century. Was it not marked by the Russian Revolution? No wonder Lenin qualified Tolstoy as the mirror of the revolution.
For me, Tolstoy is a very interesting thinker, but less interesting as a writer. “Tolstoy” in Russian means “The Great,” as in Tsar Peter. The reason for this denomination might come from the large number of letters, words and sentences he wrote in his uninteresting novel War and Peace. No one reads this novel to the end.
If you wish to learn the Russian language, I do not recommend you to learn it through any of the novels written by Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s Russian language is as uninteresting as the English of Harry Potter and Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.
2 Anton Chekhov
Let us continue with Chekhov (1860 – 1904), who lived in the 20th century for even fewer years than Tolstoy.
However, you cannot imagine Russia’s twentieth century without Chekhov. He influenced not only Russian writing, but also the whole of European literature.
Chekhov created a new genre of drama. It’s up to the audience to judge if his work was good or bad. Personally, I like Chekhov as a writer. Tolstoy did also. I do not appreciate Chekhov as a play writer. His plays have many empty talks and few actions.
By the way, Tolstoy did not like Chekhov’s plays either. He said that Chekhov’s plays are worse than Shakespeare’s. The biggest merit of Chekhov’s plays is that they brought the position of an omnipresent, omniscient stage director into the theater world. Before Chekhov this position did not exist.
3 Ivan Bunin
Ivan Bunin made history as the first Russian writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. This fact speaks for itself. Even Tolstoy did not get the Nobel Prize.
Ivan Bunin wrote short stories about a certain beautiful Russian life.
He won the Nobel Prize due to the the quality of his literature and not the number of letters, words and sentences in his books. Bunin offered it to his friends. If Tolstoy had received the Nobel Prize, he would have given it for the Revolution.
Bunin hated revolutions. Until the end of his days, he was anti-communist and anti-Soviet.
Soviet propaganda affirmed that Bunin won the Nobel Prize not for his works, but for his anti-Soviet activities. Maybe Soviet propaganda was right. The Nobel Prize was given to many writers who fought against totalitarianism.
I can assure you that Bunin won the award for good literature. If you want to know what happened in Russia between 1917and 1920, you should read Cursed Days.
4 Sergey Dovlatov and Joseph Brodsky
Two Russian emigrants, Dovlatov and Brodsky rank a special place in my life.
Brodsky is another Nobel Prize winner. He was better than Dovlatov, affirming patriotism, but was not to everybody’s liking:
Remember my son where the vodka is, then there is your homeland.
Vodka killed Dovlatov.
Brodsky died of a simple heart attack.
Both however had dedicated their lives to literature.
For literature they died. Peace be upon them. Amen.
5 Vladimir Sorokin
Let me complete the twentieth century with Sorokin., who can be qualified more like an American rock star than a Russian author.
In today’s world, people listen to rock stars but not to writers. Sorokin bucks this trend.
Try his book about the near future, Day of the Oprichnik, which imagines that the Russian Empire has been restored. This novel follows a government henchman, an oprichnik, through a day of grotesque event. Sorokin is really referring to the Kremlin’s rulers of modern Russia.
All that Sorokin came up with, well, incredible it’s the way is has been carried out in Russia. This hatred of Western society, friendship with China, revival of the Iron Curtain and so on…
What else could I say about Vladimir Sorokin? I am pleased that we have the same name Vladimir, a name that Vladimir Putin has compromised. I am pleased that Sorokin and I are from the same generation, the generation issued from the Russian communism.
I can safely say, Sorokin is the last classic Russian writer of the 20th century.
What is Russian literature?
Russian literature is a style, which tends to follow darker subjects, such as depressions. Russian literature’s main subjects are the larger-than-life questions. What to do and who to blame about everything?
Furthemore, let us consider Vladimir Nabokov, a Russian-born writer, who never reached this Russian style of writing. In order to properly understand Nabokov, you would have to read Lolita in its original language, English.
You have to read Russian literature, it is worth it.