An Olympic Preview, From The Canon Of Russian Literature

Feb 5, 2014
Originally published on February 5, 2014 11:45 am

It is fitting that the Winter Olympics, one of the world's fiercest competitions, is taking place amid the breathtaking beauty of the Caucasus.

For centuries, Russia's greatest writers have been inspired by this volatile region full of not only immense natural beauty but also human misery. No matter how or why these writers came to the area, they found a land full of possibility and pain, rich in beauty, yet rife with violence: in short, a concentrated microcosm of the contradictions of life itself.

These three works, each from different periods of Russian history, will give you unforgettable portraits of the splendor and suffering that comprises the Russian Caucasus. And, at fewer than 160 pages each, you won't have to sacrifice enjoying the Olympics to give them a go.

Sectarian violence continues to wrack the Caucasus. Russian nationalism is on the rise, and Russian imperial ambitions have become more stark. But in these books, there's a timeless message of universal humanity. In the words of Grossman, "it is time we recognized that all men are brothers." Indeed.

Andrew D. Kaufman, Russian literature expert at the University of Virginia, is author of Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times, forthcoming with Simon and Schuster. Learn more about him at

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