Eugene Onegin

I think this is possibly the best reason for doing the Classics Club Challenge. I wanted to read some Russian lit and had included the obvious on my list when my husband David, suggested I add Eugene Onegin, saying it was where all Russian literature began. I wasn’t hopeful and asked my reading budding Liz to read it with me. Then I saw that A Russian Affair had created The Eugene Onegin Challenge in 2020 which began with an introduction to the book and brief character outlines. Things were looking up, Liz and I read the introductory post and then started reading, out loud taking a couple of stanzas each.

We were hooked and didn’t look at the posts again because we were scared of spoilers. We laughed a lot, there were cries of ‘nooooo’, we held our heads in our hands, we sighed in relief and gasped in surprise. Every week we closed our books and had to promise each other that we wouldn’t read ahead, we were gripped by suspense.

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Fathers and Sons

Rather than a story this felt more a meeting of characters and generations, and the conflict and love between them. The fathers of the old Russia of Nicholas I and the sons of the new reign of Alexander II, with his declaration to liberate his people from serfdom.

On May 20th 1859 Nikolai Petrovich Kirsanov collects his son Arkady from university. When Arkady asks if his friend and mentor can come home with them, we’re introduced to Evgeny Vasilevich Bazarov. Declaring himself a nihilist, Bazarov’s commitment is to science and materialism and sets himself against the older generation whose passion for the arts he dismisses as ‘a lot of sloppy nonsense.’

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Crime and Punishment


fullsizeoutput_bdSo to book three in my introduction to Russian literature, and what a difference! Where War and Peace and Doctor Zhivago were huge in scale, the vast landscape and different peoples, this was confined to the backstreets of Petersburg, the canals, alleyways and squares. It felt dark and squalid and cramped, but filled with huge characters, coincidences, chance meetings and overheard secrets.

The crime came quickly and was brutal and horrifying in its description. Raskolnikov plots and contemplates the murder almost from the first page. Arrogant and miserable, he condescendingly calculates that an ugly old business women is of no value, that he is above the law and this justifies his actions. So why was I rooting for him in his dramatic escape from the murder scene, and kept rooting for him as the police inspector started to close in? Continue reading “Crime and Punishment”

Doctor Zhivago


This wasn’t at all what I expected. I thought I was going to read a sweeping love story set against a backdrop of snow.

Instead I found the history of Russia in the first half of the 20th century, world wars, revolution, civil war and the political terror of the 1930’s told through the eyes of a doctor and poet.

But it was the plain, almost dispassionate style that surprised me the most. Writing in 1957 Pasternak describes the civil war vividly, but without sentiment. A sense of catastrophe and upheaval is always present, the characters come thick and fast, which gives a sense of the chaos and disorder but somehow Yuri Zhivago is detached, as if he’s watching events through a window and never really taking part. Continue reading “Doctor Zhivago”

War and Peace

war and peacePhew! This has taken me so long to read and I’m so relieved to have finished!  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it but it just went on and on. I was almost weeping by the end, I just wanted someone to take his pen away! The biggest problem for me was that it felt like two books – the saga of War and Peace and then Tolstoy’s philosophy. Which was incredibly wise and true but pages and pages of it!

Written between 1863 and 1868 and set during the Napoleonic Wars (1805-12), the story of the Rostov’s and Bolkonsky’s and Pierre Bezukhov, was terrific.  I loved all the Russian names, the soirees in Petersburg, the palaces, and the huge family gatherings.  The cossacks, troikas,snow, dancing, nuts cooked in honey, herb cordials, ‘flat cakes made from dark flour and buttermilk’, roasted chicken, liquors and mushrooms, Mitka playing the balalaika, racing sleighs and droshky and muzhiks.

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