by Julia Buckley
I have taught Dostoevsky’s wonderful Crime and Punishment for many years. I love it; it might be my favorite novel in the world. However, we are considering replacing the book next year, simply because the students have a tight curriculum and have very little time to read this 500-page novel.
So I find myself in the position of having to come up with some other great work from the Slavic region. And I need help from readers!
I considered someone like Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina or War and Peace, but that would present the same problem that Crime and Punishment does: they are very long books.
I thought of Anton Chekov—maybe The Cherry Orchard—except in this world literature class they already read four plays, and five would make it more unbalanced than it already is.
I considered Alexandr Solzhenitsyn; he’s a Nobel Prize winner and his writing would certainly bring awareness of the rigors of the gulag. But perhaps, I thought, that might be too grim, since we’re already reading two existential novels that leave the students rather depressed.
Dostoevsky himself has shorter works—Notes From Underground is very manageable—but again there is a highly existential message that might make the class seem like an existential philosophy course.
Then I thought—what about a mystery? Something deep and interesting with far-reaching themes? Since I am not well-versed in foreign mysteries, I thought I’d ask for suggestions from the readers.
What are some great books (mystery or otherwise) from any of the Slavic regions? I’m including Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Croatia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Slovenia, and Republic of Macedonia.
I’d love to introduce them to something fresh which still had a strong sense of setting. And the value of a fairly obscure title is that students can’t immediately go onto a website to read summaries of what the story is about—-they would have to read and think about it for themselves.
So I'm asking for comments. What’s the best book with a Slavic setting that you ever read?
Thanks in advance for your help!