Grigory Ryzhakov – Russian Writer

Best 100 Novels of the XXIst century – A View From Russia – Pt1


Admit it, you’ve run out of books to read this summer. You wander in your local bookshop and suddenly thousands of great and supposedly must read novels look at you. But how to choose what you’ll read next?

You turn to top 10, 20, 100 lists to select your next literary companion. British and American must-read lists are heavily biased towards the titles of Big5 publishing houses. Why not to look elsewhere?

Here I present to your a  beautifully curated list of 100 greatest novels of the XXIst century published in Russia (both Russian and foreign titles). The list is assembled by the Russian magazine Afisha, which specializes in arts and entertainment.

This list has no number 1 or number 10, just a hundred of novels that top Russian literary critics, writers and journalists consider as great reads. The beauty of this is that you also have a number of Russian books here, which are so eagerly hunted by connoisseurs of Russian literature who occasionally stumble upon my blog.

So, what’s in the list? Most of them , apart from Harry Potter, can hardly be called an easy read. Gear up your brain.

Firstly, your usual mega-bestsellers

  • Best YA novel is JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, a novel of education and coming-of-age
  • Best fantasy novel is G R R Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire epic series. Gore, blood, incest (sex, drugs, rock-n-roll) and how to hatch your dragon.
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is the first Afghan novel written in English. A gem of genre fiction.
  • Stieg Larsson’s  the Millenium trilogy. A grim sociopolitical thriller. Lisbeth Salander is one of the most unique modern heroines. It’s a fairy tale, of course. A young offender Aspie girl would have no chance to win in real life.
  • Cormac McCarthy The Road is most depressing masterpiece. Is life worth living after apocalypse?
  • Aravind Adiga – The White Tiger – a shocking portrayal of the modern day Indian society.
  • Gregory David Edwards – Shantaram – an autobiography by a drug dealer who escaped from an Australian prison to India and continued his criminal adventures there
  • Ken Follet’s Fall of Giants – a monumental piece about the First World War and a grandiose family saga. This book is a part of The Century trilogy.
  • David Mitchell – Cloud Atlas – a very post-modernist best-seller. Read it if you like the idea of reincarnation.

The next bunch of books is science fiction with all its variations

  • Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go – a romantic dystopia about humans clones trying to evade their destiny. Take the clone bit out, and it’s just about us.
  • Neil Gaiman – American Gods – mythology transferred into the modern day America; black humor. Old Gods clashing with their new counterparts.
  • Susanna Clark – Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. A story of rivalry between two wizards in England. London, Venice, the war with Napoleon and the King of the North. Eloquently written, a modern classic.
  • Stephen King – 11/22/1963 – could you stop Oswald and rescue Kennedy if you turned back time? And what would happen if you tried?
  • Kate Atkinson – Life after Life – the Ground-Hog Day, reincarnation and time travel yet again. Readers never seem to tire of this.
  • Peter Ackroyd – The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein – the re-told and turned upside down famous Mary Shelley’s novel.
  • China Mieville – The New Crobuzon Trilogy – scifi, revolutionists, leftists, philosophy. Weird fiction. Some find it too weird and inventive.
  • Michael Chabon –  The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Alternative history. Germany wins WWII, Israel is destroyed, Jews are hiding in American Alaska.
  • Neil Stephenson – Anathem – philosophical scifi, history, adventures, quantum mechanics and aliens. My favorite genre.

Historical fiction
Besides aforementioned Ken Follet, there are some well-known names on the list

  • Marcus Suzak – The Book Thief – Nazi’s Germany, a girl reading banned books and Death as a narrator
  • Dan Simmons – The Terror – the sea voyage of the ships Erebus and Terror stuck in the Arctic ice in 1845
  • Jonathan Littell – The Kindly Ones – apparently the best novel about the Nazi regime
  • Jonathan’s Coe – The Rotter’s Club – 1970s Britain, art rock and IRA. A coming of age novel
  • Gunter Grass – Peeling the Onion. Autobiography? How could a 17 yo boy end up in SS and then change his destiny? Years 1939-1959
  • Peter Esterhazy – Celestial Harmonies – A family saga spanning half of the millennium of Hungarian history
  • Christian Kracht – Imperium – about a German immigrant in Papa New Guinea, and it’s actually a book about European Imperial mentality. Caused quite a stir in literary circles for its right-wing extreme ideas
  • Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall – England, XVI-th century, biographical adventures of Thomas Cromwell. Booker Prize Winner (the sequel won the prize too)

Detectives, thriller and crime novels
Apart from the Millenium trilogy and Shantaram we get

  • Tonino Benakvista’s Malavita – an American Gangster and his family go under witness protection program in France
  • Peter Hoeg – The Quiet Girl –  kids with paranormal abilities are kidnapped. The central protagonsit is a clown sleuth with quite a sophisticated mind
  • Albert Sanchez Pinol – Cold Skin – an ex-IRA guy stuck on an Antarctic island with a crazy recluse.
  • Catherine O’Flynn, What Was Lost, a little girl detective in a giant hypermarket; a humorous literary novel
  • Iain Pears – Stone’s Fall – historical mystery about a crooked banker causing the WWI and the Great Russian Revolution
  • Carlos Luis Zafon – The Shadow of the Wind – a colossal international bestseller. A great Spanish mystery: why someone is destroying every book written by Julian Carax?
  • Donna Tartt – The Little Friend – an intellectual pseudo-detective story, in which a little boy investigates his brother’s murder
  • Jo Nesbe – The Snowman – Norwegian thriller: sexual perversions, government corruption and a serial killer

Literary fiction

  • Ian McEwan – Atonement – a slander of a 13yo girl writer wrecks destinies of people dear to her. A sublimely modernist novel
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer – a little NY boy is unraveling a mystery of his late father and overcomes his personal and a great American trauma
  • Corrections – Jonathan Franzen – a great American novel, a postmodernist analysis of the state of American society
  • The Sense of An Ending – Julian Barnes – exploration of death by the modern British master
  • 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami – the death of the leader of a totalitarian sect and the other world. Japanese surrealism
  • Elizabeth Strout – Olive Ketteridge – exploration of the human condition through reflections of the most peculiar heroine. Pulitzer Prize.
  • Thomas Pynchon – Inherent Vice – a noir and psychedelic thriller, as genre-friendly and accessible as Pynchon can try to be
  • Mario Vargas Llosa – Bad Girl’s Adventures (Travesuras de la niña mala) – a story of love that spans the lifetime from the Peruvian Nobel Prize Winner.
  • The Crimson Petal and the White – Michel Faber – Victorian times and sex – relationship between a London prostitute and a rich gentleman
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez – his autobiography quite similar to his most famous book, The Hundred Years of Solitude
  • Let The Great World Spin – Colum McCann – “a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the Twin Towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground.” A portrait of the New York’s 1970s era.
  • Jeffrey Eugenides – Middlesex – a DNA drama about the adventures of a hermaphrodite
  • Until I Find You – John Irving – a road adventure and a coming-of-age story. A Hollywood actor is searching for his lost father in Europe
  • I Am Charlotte Simmons – Tom Wolfe – A college girl and her virginity. It’s a thousand page tale, supposedly, on the moral state of American society. The book received terrible readers’ reviews though.
  • Carter Beats the Devil by Glenn David Gold – a curious novel about an American magician in the 1920s who rivaled Satan.
  • The Museum of Innocence – Orhan Pamuk – a heart-splitting memoir-novel and a tale of Istanbul from the Turkish Nobel Prize Winner
  • A Tale of Love and Darkness – Amos Oz – an autobiographical tale of a young writer in the times of building of the Israeli state
  • The Map and The Territory – Michel Houellebecq – with sad satire and longing for utopia, it’s a literary crime novel featuring a modern artist protagonist. The Goncourt Prize Winner.
  • Remainder – Tom McCarthy – Can one reconstruct his genuine past after memory loss due to mechanical trauma?
  • Fury – Salman Rushdie – a satirical tale of an Indian expat in America who realizes that the relentless Shiva rules the world. Any book by Rushdie is a must read. Like Tolstoy.
  • On Beauty – Zadie Smith – a satirical Romeo&Juliette-esque tale of the two modern-day rivaling families and two ideologies.

The final part of this top 100 list is all about modern Russian books, which, while you’re digesting these awesome non-Russian titles, I’ll decompose for you in my follow-up blog post next week.


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