5 Moscow-based Books and Where to Read Them
20 September, 2019
One of the best ways to discover a country is through literature. However, it can at times be hard to understand the soul of a piece of work only through imagination. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Moscow, here’s a list of great novels and stories to get stuck into, along with where you should read them in order to fully immerse yourself in the tale.
A Week like Any Other – Natalya Baranskaya
What’s it about? Olga is a typical Soviet mother, trying to raise two small children whilst working full time as a scientist. This short novel is written as a series of long diary entries, telling Olga’s daily struggles to fulfil all her duties. Nothing hugely exciting happens during the week, but it is more of a window into the banality of life, and how we can all associate with some part of Olga’s life.
Where to read it? This is the ideal book for commuting on the metro or on buses. Until you’ve travelled from one side of Moscow to the other, it’s hard to imagine how vast the city is, or how an hour’s commute is the norm. Olga’s daily commute forms a great part of this story, and is the easiest way to feel connected and sympathetic to her character.
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
What’s it about? This is a tale of the supernatural, blending the ordinary with the extraordinary. Set all around Moscow, it appears that the Devil himself has taken a trip to the Russian capital, leaving destruction in the path of everyone he meets. Bulgakov has a hugely creative imagination, and you can virtually follow the characters around the city as you read.
Where to read it? Take yourself to Patriarch Ponds, a leafy area in the north-west of the city. Tucked into a criss-cross of streets, you’ll find the pond where the book starts off. All around the pond are painted benches where you can relax and read. If it’s winter, go to one of the cafes on the other side of the road, and get a hot tea whilst you look out at the pond.
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
What’s it about? This book is set at the beginning of the 1920s, and features as its main character a member of the former nobility, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. Sentenced to permanent imprisonment in the Hotel Metropol, Count Rostov muses upon his life, and everything that is changing around him.
Where to read it? Circled round the fountains on Teatralnaya Ploshad’ are metal benches. Pick one on the west side and you will be able to see both the Bolshoi Theatre, and the 8-foot windows of Count Rostov’s rooms at the Hotel Metropol. Listen to the falling water as you read, and imagine Count Rostov as a young man running up the steps to the theatre, or looking out over the square from his prison.
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
What’s it about? A classic epic novel, War and Peace is not to be started lightly. The book takes place in Moscow, St Petersburg and other Russian towns during the Napoleonic wars, and chronicles the lives of aristocrats dealing with the hectic times. At over 1000 pages, War and Peace is one of the most famous Russian literary works.
Where to read it? The summer terrace at Bosco on Red Square. With the book taking place all over Russia, settle yourself with tea or a drink in the heart of Moscow, with a view of St Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin.
Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith
What’s it about? From a western author writing in the early 1980s comes a tale of mystery and intrigue, set in the dying years of the Soviet Union. Follow Detective Arkady Renko around Moscow as he searches for unknown killers, and begins to suspect that this is not an every-day killing.
Where to read it? Wander around the south of Gorky Park until you find a bench, or a patch of grass. Although the book takes place in many locations, starting at the place the first body is discovered will give you a good grounding for the novel.
Have you read any good books set in Moscow? Leave a comment if you have a favourite that you’d like to share!