If you're planning travel to Russia and you haven't brushed up on your Russian literature, you'd better make a shorter trip first - to your local library or bookstore. Knowledge about Russian literature will make traveling through Russian cities more exciting - you'll see monuments, museums, and other homages to Russian literary giants - and will give you a conversation ice breaker when speaking with the locals.
Alexander Pushkin is Russia's Father of Literature. During the 19th century, he revolutionized the way Russians writers would henceforth ply their craft. His famous novel in verse, Eugene Onegin is one of his most important works. However, Pushkin also wrote short stories (The Bronze Horseman, The Queen of Spades, The Captain's Daughter) and poems that pervade the Russian consciousness. Operas and movies have been based upon Pushkin's works, his portraits hang in museums, monuments to Pushkin are found in all major Russian cities, and Russians will reference him at every opportunity. If you don't know anything about Russian literature, Pushkin is the author with whom to start.
Dostoevsky, of Crime and Punishment
fame, painted scenes and character that described what lay at the underbelly of Russian society during the 19th century. Follow the main character of Crime and Punishment
, Raskolnikov, through St. Petersburg using literary clues, or pay a visit to his grave. St. Petersburg has no shortage of Dostoevsky sites
Lev Tolstoy is famous for epic Victorian novels such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina (emphasis on the second syllable - Kar-EN-i-na). If you don't want to slog through one of his tales of tragedy, no one will blame you. While Tolstoy is one of Russian literature's heavyweights, simply reading about Tolstoy will suffice. If you know that he was a nobleman playing peasant and that he died while seeking religious solace, you'll be fine. The finer points of Tolstoy's life are dealt with in any biography about him, and these details are really what's important about Tolstoy.
Russian Literature for Travel - Anton Chekov
Anton Chekov, a playwright and short story writer, has a ton of fans. Humorous and human, Chekov's characters are expertly crafted, his dialogue masterfully executed. The best way to experience Chekov's works is in a theater. Attend a local performance of The Cherry Orchard or Uncle Vanya and you'll begin to understand Chekov a little better.
Nikolai Gogol was a Ukrainian author who wrote in Russian. The Russians have, therefore, adopted him into their literary canon. Gogol is famous for his funny, if tragic, tales of civil servants and other individuals who are unable to escape the fate the 19th century Russian class structure deals them. Gogol also wrote about the Cossacks of Ukrain in Taras Bulba
, which was made famous to Western audiences through the 1962 film starring Yul Brynner.
In Moscow, it's possible to visit the Gogol Museum.
Mikhail Bulgakov is famous for a novel called Master and Margarita, which was written as a satire to criticize Soviet Russia. Bulgakov died in 1940 but he continues to have something of a cult following. You'll find dining establishments or clubs named after the famous black-cat minion of Satan, named Begemot, and a veritable shrine made of Bulgakov's apartment in Moscow. Bulgakov's novel is a fun, enlightening read, especially for those who shy away from denser works (like those of Tolstoy).
Mikail Lermontov is famous for the novel A Hero of Our Time, which plays upon the Russian literaty theme of "the superflous man." The superfluous man is a Byronian character with no purpose - and he knows it. Lermontov was also a poet, and succeeded Pushkin in the development of Russian literature. While not as prolific as other authors (he died at the age of 26), Lermontov is, nonetheless, and important literary figure and regarded highly by most Russians.