January 18, 2014

Russian War Literature

After informing you about Russian Children's literature and Russian Sci-Fi, I'm now going to make a list of Russian war literature. Judging by what I see people read about World War II around blogosphere it's as if Russia was not taking part in it, or Russia don't have writers, or people just don't know about all the wonderful books on the topic! Being a clever girl, I ruled out the first two possibilities and was left with a sad fact that readers are not acquainted with Russian war literature enough. (UPD: while searching for translations I realized that it's actually the publishers that are not acquainted with it enough. If you happen to know a publisher, please do everybody a favour and show him this list!)

So I've decided to list all the awesome books that tell first hand about the terrible period of WWII in Russia. But I needed some help myself remembering everything, so I asked my mom during my Christmas trip home, and being a seasoned bookworm, bookhoarder and an expert in Soviet literature, she was eager to help. Then I consulted my very well-read BF, who also added a couple of books. So here is the result of our combined efforts. I've sorted it according to the authors' last names and provided the most common translations of the titles.

  1. Abramov, Fyodor Aleksandrovich: Brothers and Sisters (1958) WWII from the point of view of a small village that needs not only to take care of its own needs, but also provide for the war in the absence of all its men.
  2. Bondarev, Yuri Vasilyevich: The Battalions Request Fire (1957), The Hot Snow (1969), The Shore (1975) The last one is a bit philosophical and very heartbreaking. The other two are extremely famous and tell about some of the hottest WWII battles in Russia.
  3. Chukovsky, Nicolay Korneevich: Baltic Skies (1955) The story of the pilots defending Leningrad during its siege.
  4. Fadeyev, Alexander Alexandrovich: The Young Guard (1945) An account of the actions of a youth partisan organization. Idealized, of course, but really engaging.
  5. German, Yuri Pavlovich: The Cause You Serve, My Dear Man, I'm Responsible For All (1958-1965) Although only the second book is about war, it’s a trilogy, so you’d better start from the beginning. It’s about a doctor who worked in the East before war and then became a war surgeon.
  6. Granin, Daniil Alexandrovich: A Book of the Blockade (1979) A chronicle based on interviews, diaries and personal memoirs of those who survived the siege of Leningrad during 1941-44. It’s very difficult to read because of all the horrors of the time, and I confess I’ve read only parts of it. But I promise I’ll do better, because it’s essential. My Lieutenant (2011) is one of his later works, and I haven’t read it yet, but my mom says it’s good. Basically, grab any book by him if you see it, he’s great.
  7. Grossman, Vasily Semyonovich: Life and Fate (1959) An epic novel focusing on the battle of Stalingrad
  8. Ilyina, Elena: The Fourth Height (1945) It’s my favourite childhood book which I have re-read several times. It’s a biography of a war hero Gulya Koroleva from her childhood to her heroic death in a battle.
  9. Kataev, Valentin Petrovich: Son of the Regiment (1945) About a boy adopted by a regiment. I have wonderful childhood memories of it!
  10. Kaverin, Veniamin Alexandrovich: The Two Captains (1944) An awesome novel about polar exploration, love and treason, which ends in the period of WWII.
  11. Kurochkin, Viktor Aleksandrovich: At War as at War (1970) How a young war academy graduate gains appreciation from his older and more experienced subordinates and becomes a real commander.
  12. Matveev, German Ivanovich: Tarantul trilogy (1945-1957) It’s about boys against saboteurs in a sieged Leningrad! Suspense, adventure, mystery, danger! 
  13. Medvedev, Dmitry Nikolaevich: It Happened Near Rovno (1948) A story about a special troop of scouts and saboteurs working in the rear of German army.
  14. Nekrasov, Viktor Platonovich: Front-line Stalingrad (In the trenches of Stalingrad) (1946) A first-hand account of one of the most bloody battles of the war - the battle of Stalingrad
  15. Panova, Vera Fyodorovna: The Train (1946) About a medical train and its nurses.
  16. Pikul, Valentin Savvich: The Requiem for Convoy PQ-17 (1970), Boys with bows (1974) The first is a “documental tragedy” of one of the Arctic convoys, destroyed by German submarines and aviation. The second is autobiographical and tells about a sea cadet’s school.
  17. Polevoi, Boris Nikolaevich: Story of a Real Man (1947) The book is about a pilot who started flying again after the amputation of two legs. Mostly about strong character, and very impressive!
  18. Semyonov, Yulian Semyonovich: Seventeen Moments of Spring (1969) and all the rest of The “Isaev – Stierlitz” Series. Spy fiction, guys! And watch the mini-series of the same name, it’s awesome.
  19. Sholokhov, Mikhail Aleksandrovich: They Fought for Their Country (1969) A novel about the first, the hardest and the bitterest period of war – the period of retreat. Sholokhov won a Nobel prize for literature, so don’t miss on him!
  20. Simonov, Konstantin Mikhailovich: The Living and the Dead (1959) Simonov was a war journalist, so not only has he been everywhere and seen everything, he also really can write.
  21. Tvardovsky, Aleksandr Trifonovich: A Book About a Soldier (Vasili Tyorkin) (1942-45) A humorous and optimistic poem about an ordinary soldier, resourceful and plain, going resiliently through the everyday hardships of the war. A streak of comedy in all the tragedy!
  22. Vasilyev, Boris Lvovich: The Dawns Here Are Quiet (1972), Not on the Active List (1974), Tomorrow There Came War (1984) or really anything you can find by him. He’s awesome. I was crying like mad while reading The Dawns Here Are Quiet.

I hope this list will encourage you to pick some of the books that are not only great sources for learning about the Russian take on WWII, but are also literary and psychological masterpieces.

P.S. Special kudos for those who know what ribbon is used as a bookmark in the picture :) For those who have no idea, here's the link.


  1. Son of the Regiment! Well, that brings back memories. Thank you for this excellent list. WWII Russian (well, Soviet then) lit is definitely not my strongest point, and this list makes me want to hunt down some of these for a read or a re-read.

    1. It's awesome, right? Soviet would be more correct, I guess, but I'm not sure the list is representative of the other Soviet States, that's why I stuck with the definition "Russian"

  2. Wow, I don't think I've ever read that much WWII lit, so I'm definitely copying this list into my notebook for further investigation. Thanks!

    1. Me neither) I think I've read half of the books on the list. But I'll definitely read more soon :)

  3. Oh wow, fantastic!! You are right that people don't know about all the books there are. I think because of the Iron Curtain, for a very long time we in the West didn't know much about Russia in the war. I mean obviously we knew it happened, but there wasn't a lot of detail or personal memoir--the sort of thing Westerners read. It's only fairly recently that we've started learning much of the story. I was stunned when I read about Stalingrad.

    (Americans, at least, aren't that great at history anyway. I remember when my mom handed me a book about the Japanese internment camps--and those were mostly in my home state of California--and I was outraged that no one had ever told me about it before. We didn't study it in school, though I think they do now. We barely got to WWI anyway.)

    1. I agree that getting different perspectives was difficult during the times of the Iron Curtain, but now some people are really interested, and I've seen a couple of books on the topic, written by modern American and European writers. They may be well-researched and I don't have anything against them, but I feel it's much better to read a first-hand account, and it's very sad no one knows they exist!

    2. Oh, I agree, and I will be putting these books on my TBR list! Tell your mom thanks. :)

    3. I hope you'll have a chance to find some of them :) I've told her :)

  4. So grateful for this list of books. I'm starting to bring a better balance in my reading ( French-English-Dutch) so that I don't go overboard as I did last year ( 19 in French - 6 in English - 1 in Dutch). I read only 4 books by Russin writers....time to discover more Russian Literature.

    1. Russian literature is very rich, and I hope you'll like what you discover :)

  5. Wheee. That list makes me feel very nostalgic! And it's going to be really useful that's for sure - thank you!

    Seventeen Moments of Spring was SUCH a cult mini-series - I've definitely seen it, but don't remember much because I was so little.

    I agree that it's difficult to get a hold of some of these kind of books if you want to read in English. Heck, even some very well-known sci-fi is hard to access (and if you do find it, usually there is like one cover design, which is butt ugly).

    1. I've re-watched Seventeen Moments of Spring recently - and it's amazing! Such suspense without any special effects! :)

      Yes, I had a hard time tracking editions on the Internet... Really, somebody needs to take up translating publishing Russian books! But I think you have an advantage, as there may be more Estonian translations from Soviet times :)

  6. Wonderful list, Ekaterina! Thanks a lot for this! These days I feel that Russian literature of the 20th century is mostly unknown outside Russia, except for a few authors like Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vassily Grossman and Mikhail Bulgakov. So it was refreshing to see some wonderful rich suggestions in your list. I have Mikhail Sholokhov's 'And Quiet Flows the Don'. I hope to read it sometime this year. When I saw Boris Nikolaevich Polevoi's 'Story of a Real Man' on your list, it made me smile :) Because I read that book when I was in school and I loved it. I think it was an edition by Progress Publishers. I don't know whether the book is in print now. I would love to read it again. I want to read Elena Ilyina's 'The Fourth Height' after reading your description of it.

    Thanks a lot for this list, Ekaterina! I was really thrilled to see it. If I can make a request, please do make a list of 20th century Russian literary fiction (beyond the regular authors) and publish it. I would love to see that and read the books on that list. I am sure many of your other readers would love to see that too. Your blog is wonderful (I discovered it through Andrea from TassledBooks) and I am looking forward to follow your reviews in the future.

    1. Thank you, Vishy! I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't been able to finish And Quiet Flows the Don... It started really well, but then it got really tiresome.. But probably I should try again, as I'm older and more patient now :)

      I'm afraid that I'm not really an expert in 20th century Russian literary fiction... We had the beginning of the century at school, of course, but it's mostly poetry which is not well translatable or authors which have begun writing in the 19th century. Then after a prolific period of early USSR when some good writers can be found and a war period of which I've written here experimental prose starts to prevail, and that's what I really don't like... And unfortunately, I'm totally ignorant of the latest decades of the 20th century and I'm not aware of what is happening on the literary horizon nowadays...

      I may try to make some kind of list, but it will be not unbiased and will be based only on my limited experience.


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