The Russians and Their Favorite Books

The Russians and Their Favorite Books

Author: Klaus Mehnert
ISBN: 978-0-8179-7821-1
Publication Date: 10/18/1983
Pages: 280

Thousands of specialists throughout the world study the Soviet Union from every conceivable angle and for good reason; the policies of the USSR and the attitudes of the Soviet leaders are among the main factors that will determine the future of mankind. It is all very well for Kremlinologists to speculate about the Brezhnevs, Andropovs, and other Soveit leaders. Yet we know little about them. But is it not just as important to learn something about the Russian people? Can we perhaps know more about them?

In Klaus Mehnert approaches the Russians in a highly original way. Taking as his cue the axiom, "By knowing what you read, I know what you are," he questioned Russian readers about their favorite books and authors. For one month in 1981, 1982, and 1983, he traveled through the USSR as far as eastern Siberia, "pestering," as he puts it, countless individuals, librarians, and bookstore employees about the Russians' favorite fiction.

In the crucial last part of his study, Mehnert describes the authors, some of whom he knows personally, and their works in order to draw conclusions about the Russians' present mood. His discoveries are full of suprises; Why is village literature so appealing? What is the reason behind the Russians' curious fasination with a war that ended almost four decades ago? Why are so few novels about Moscow and so many about Siberia? Those who wish to know more about the Russians of today will find fascinating answers to these questions and intriguing summaries of the 111 favorite novels.

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Klaus Mehnert

Klaus Mehnert was born in Moscow in 1906. His German family left Russia when the First World War broke out in 1914. His father was killed in action on the western front in 1917; his mother, born of German parents in Russia and deeply steeped in Russian culture, imbued her son with a love for Russian literature and kept alive his knowledge of the Russian language. Between 1929 and 1936 and again between 1955 and 1983, he visted the USSR frequently, sometimes once a year, spending a total of about six years there. As a German citizen, he travelled extensively between the Arctic Ocean and central Asia and tranversed Siberia five times.

At the age of 26 he published his first book on Russia. It was based on his personal observations and was translated into a dozen languages. Very early he considered literature a useful means of exporing the Russian mood. His later publications on Russia have also been concerned with the human aspect and with Soviet literature.

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