I’ve been obsessed with Russian history for years now so I have accumulated a very small book list that I really enjoyed. With everything going on in Ukraine I figured some of you might be interested in some of these too.
The Man Without a Face, The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen
Everything Masha Gessen writes about Russia is great. It’s always written well and easy to get into. She grew up in Russia before migrating with her family to the US in the 80’s and then she moved back to be a journalist there in the nineties until she had to leave due to her LGBTQ status and being a journalist made it too dangerous to stay. Because of her history with the country all of her books are always informed by her life experience which gives an extra layer of complexity to them.
I read this book when Trump first became president which is the same year it came out. Oh my gosh, it’s so informative about the Soviet Union and the weird little psychopath that maneuvered his way from a being a low level KGB agent in East Germany to Russia’s endless dictator. I learned so much about the modern history of Russia from this book too, like the Moscow Theatre Hostage Crisis and the Chechen Wars.
Read this book to get a great overview of Putin, the government of the Soviet Union and Russia and to learn about recent Russian history.
One Soldier’s War by Arkady Babchenko
This book is really well written by a former Russian soldier that served in both Chechen Wars in the 90’s. His brutal experience as a low level Russian soldier shines a light onto why the Russian soldiers in Ukraine are so unprepared and have such low morale. The hazing and violence that soldiers experience in their own army makes getting out of the barracks to go fight an actual war feel like a relief. But of course it’s an even bigger horror that the untrained soldiers that lack basic equipment can ever imagine. During the war they suffer freezing conditions, lack of food and fresh water, abusive officers, enemy torture and if you’re killed, your body will probably be left behind for the stray dogs. This is a book delving into how government sociopathy purposely works to create sociopathic zombie soldiers but they end up with a generation of lost and empty souled kids instead.
Read this book!
Ester & Ruzya by Masha Gessen
Another great one by Masha Gessen. This is a family history of her two grandmothers, one from Ukraine and one from Russia, trying to survive the Nazis in World War II as Jewish women. They both end up living in post WWII, anti-Semitic Soviet Union, first as friends and then as family when their kids marry. Together their friendship got them through the reign of Stalin, the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Putin.
This book is cool because it gives you a good historical background of how citizens of Ukraine and Russia have intermingled over the generations and also what went down during WWII and after as Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union.
Soviet Daughter by Julia Alekseyeva
This short and easy to read little graphic novel is the story of the writer/illustrator’s grandmother’s experience growing up outside of Kiev, Ukraine during and after WWII. As a Jewish girl, she survived the Holocaust, a civil war, Stalin’s purges and went on to work for the KGB.
Alekseyeva writes about her experiences growing up as a Ukranian American with her grandmother’s life story guiding her way.
I love learning history through graphic novels! While you’re at it if you’re in the historical graphic novel mood pick up Maus I and Maus II along with Persepolis.
How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
In closing, let’s wrap up this reading list with the inconvenient bow of a thorough history of how democracies die…spoiler alert! It’s through a slow drip, drip, drip of citizen apathy, a corrosion of the free press and corruption of the judiciary. The book pleads us to PAY ATTENTION!
It’s also a very approachable read that describes a lot of European and Central American experiences of losing and gaining democracy. Democracy is fragile and not guaranteed, please read this book!