I’m obsessed with everything that has to do with Imperial Russia! I’m actually really sad that I still haven’t had the chance to visit this interesting country. Although there are tons of textbooks that give information about this period of time, I personally prefer to read historical fiction set in this era. It’s a win-win situation if you think about it – I get entertained with a really good love story and I learn at the same time!
Therefore, I decided to share with you guys my personal favorites!
Anna Karenina- Leon Tolstoy
This has to be one of the most famous novels of all time! We have all probably seen the latest motion picture stared by Keira Knightley! Set a few decades before the Russian Revolution, through this novel, we can experience life during the golden Imperial Russia. We get the POV of several aristocrats and get a sneak peak of the luxurious lifestyle they led. More importantly, we experience the moral standards of these kind of people and the conflicts they often found themselves in.
We have Anna, a sophisticated house wife to Karenin, a St. Petersburg government official. Although, slightly affectionate, he’s much older than her and this empty existence leads her to the open arms of Count Vronsky where she can let loose her restrained passion. More over, this is a novel that expresses the author’s views on politics and life itself through Levin, one of the most important characters in this novel.
I must warn you, this is an extremely long novel and it has taken me a really long time to read! But it’s definitely worth it!
War and Peace- Leo Tolstoy
This novel opens in 1805 Imperial Russia on the verge of war with Napoleon’s western conquest. Here, we get the perspective of several characters such as Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a rich count, Natasha, a lively young girl the belongs to the noble Rostov family from Moscow and, Andrew Bolkonski the son of a retired military commander. We also have the sneaky and fortune hunter Kuragin Family.
Throughout the novel – also really really long- we see how the lives of these three characters are entwining with each other, as well as the political changes in Russia. We can also appreciate how war affects each of these people and their families. One of my favorite things, was Pierre’s determination to look into his soul and find his true significance in this world.
I must say I loved the recent BBC adaptation starring, Lily James, Paul Dano and James Norton. Paul Dano’s portrayal of Pierre Bezukhov was absolutely amazing!
Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak
As you can probably notice, Russian authors are very demanding to read. They invest a lot time in details, therefore it might take a lot of your time. However, you can imagine fully each scene with their beautiful landscapes and infrastructures.
Another recommendation is Doctor Zhivago, where we can actually experience the changes that surrounded the Russian Revolution of 1917. We have Yuri Zhivago a young doctor that grew up within a very rich Russian family in the heart of Moscow. We also have Lara, the daughter of widowed seamstress. Although they both come from different worlds, the revolution forces their paths to cross with each other.
There are several movie adaptations, but I must say my favorite is David Lean’s masterpiece starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif!
The Amber Keeper – Freda Lightfoot
I know most of the books I previously mentioned are world known classics. However, I really enjoyed this contemporary take on the Russian Revolution. This novel relates the story of a young English governess, Millie. Through her, we’re transported to the last days of Imperial Russia where she worked for an aristocrat Russian family. Something I also loved, was the flash forward, where we center our attention on her granddaughter who discovers all her family’s secrets.
I loved the detail in which the author portrays life just when the revolution begins and how it affected all individuals in Russia.
The Secret Wife – Gill Paul
I absolutely loved this story! Imagine what would’ve happened if one of the Romanovs survived! That’s right! The author uses a the romance between a Russian soldier and Tatiana Romanov when she volunteered as a nurse during WWI! You can read more about this book on my review on The Secret Wife!
If you guys are interested on reading actual facts of Imperial Russia I really recommend Fives myths about the Romanovs by Robert Service. It’s super interesting how he clarifies popular myths about this noble family across centuries!
Also if you’re like me, and want to know more historical fiction books set in Russia, read Julia Gousseva’s 15 Russian Historical Fiction and Nonfiction Books You Will Love or go ahead and check out Goodread’s Russian/Soviet Historical Fiction list !