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Five great books set in MOSCOW
22nd July 2020
Moscow is the latest city for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Five great books set in Moscow.
‘Moscow… how many strains are fusing in that one sound, for Russian hearts. What store of riches it imparts!’ – Alexander Pushkin
In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Moscow, Christmas Eve, 1949.The Soviet secret police intercept a call made to the American embassy by a Russian diplomat who promises to deliver secrets about the nascent Soviet Atomic Bomb program. On that same day, a brilliant mathematician is locked away inside a Moscow prison that houses the country’s brightest minds. He and his fellow prisoners are charged with using their abilities to sleuth out the caller’s identity, and they must choose whether to aid Joseph Stalin’s repressive state–or refuse and accept transfer to the Siberian Gulag camps . . . and almost certain death.
First written between 1955 and 1958, In the First Circle is Solzhenitsyn’s fiction masterpiece. In order to pass through Soviet censors, many essential scenes–including nine full chapters–were cut or altered before it was published in a hastily translated English edition in 1968. Now with the help of the author’s most trusted translator, Harry T. Willetts, here for the first time is the complete, definitive English edition of Solzhenitsyn’s powerful and magnificent classic.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
On 21 June 1922 Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.
But instead of being taken to his usual suite, he is led to an attic room with a window the size of a chessboard. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely.
While Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval, the Count, stripped of the trappings that defined his life, is forced to question what makes us who we are. And with the assistance of a glamorous actress, a cantankerous chef and a very serious child, Rostov unexpectedly discovers a new understanding of both pleasure and purpose.
Twilight of the Eastern Gods by Ismail Kadare
1958. In a dorm room in Moscow, a young writer is woken by the sound of angry voices on the radio. Through the fog of a hangover he hears the news that a novel called Doctor Zhivago has earned its author the Nobel Prize. There is uproar. The author, Boris Pasternak, faces exile, the press hound him and demand that he refuse the award. A few days earlier the young writer found a copy of this book – could those simple pages really be so dangerous?
Based on Ismail Kadare’s own experience, Twilight of the Eastern Gods is a fictionalised recreation of his time as a student at the prestigious Gorky Institute for World Literature – a strange ‘factory of the intellect’ set up to produce a new generation of Socialist writers. With its drunken nights, uninspiring professors, specially selected students and enforced Socialist Realism his time at the Gorky Institute brought Kadare to the brink of abandoning writing altogether.
Stalin’s Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith
Investigator Arkady Renko, the pariah of the Moscow prosecutor’s office, has been assigned the thankless job of investigating a new phenomenon: late-night subway riders report seeing the ghost of Joseph Stalin on the platform of the Chistye Prudy Metro station. The illusion seems part political hocus-pocus and also part wishful thinking, for among many Russians Stalin is again popular; the bloody dictator can boast a two-to-one approval rating. Decidedly better than that of Renko, whose lover, Eva, has left him for Detective Nikolai Isakov, a charismatic veteran of the civil war in Chechnya, a hero of the far right and, Renko suspects, a killer for hire. The cases entwine, and Renko’s quests become a personal inquiry fueled by jealousy.
The investigation leads to the fields of Tver outside of Moscow, where once a million soldiers fought. There, amidst the detritus, Renko must confront the ghost of his own father, a favorite general of Stalin’s. In these barren fields, patriots and shady entrepreneurs — the Red Diggers and Black Diggers — collect the bones, weapons and personal effects of slain World War II soldiers, and find that even among the dead there are surprises.
Snowdrops by A D Miller
That’s what the Russians call them – the bodies that float up into the light in the thaw. Drunks, most of them, and homeless people who just give up and lie down into the whiteness, and murder victims hidden in the drifts by their killers.
Nick has a confession. When he worked as a high-flying British lawyer in Moscow, he was seduced by Masha, an enigmatic woman who led him through her city: the electric nightclubs and intimate dachas, the human kindnesses and state-wide corruption. Yet as Nick fell for Masha, he found that he fell away from himself: he knew that she was dangerous, but life in Russia was addictive, and it was too easy to bury secrets – and corpses – in the winter snows…
Andrew for the TripFiction Team
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