Russia’s literary luck has certainly cooled since the days of War and Peace. While even the Soviet Union could produce, however tangentially, novels like The Master and Margarita, modern Russia has yet to cough up a global hit. The question—Why not us?—hangs so heavily (especially in the wake of certain Swedish successes) that there are TV roundtables devoted to it. One explanation, from novelist Alexander Garros, is the weight of all that past greatness: “Every Russian writer feels pathologically compelled to start addressing the very essence of Russia … and it’s just not all that fascinating these days.”
1. VICTOR PELEVIN
Homo Zapiens; translated by Andrew Bromfield
Pelevin’s novels combine social satire with druggie visions, English puns, and Buddhist sermonizing; it’s a testament to his talent that the result is even readable, let alone good. Zapiens (Generation P in the original) follows a cocky copywriter through the chaos of the Yeltsin years; the long-delayed film version just premiered.
2. VLADIMIR SOROKIN
Ice; translated by Jamey Gambrell
Sorokin started out as a kind of scatological Robbe-Grillet before maturing into a master of literary camouflage: He does perfect imitations of everything from sci-fi to medieval court drama to somber World War II novel to gay porn, often in the same book.
3. BORIS AKUNIN
The Fandorin novels; translated by Andrew Bromfield
If any Russian is ready for a Stieg Larsson–style crossover, it’s Akunin, whose retro Investigator Fandorin mysteries (styled after Great Lit but seeded with serial killers and global intrigue) are book equivalents of artfully chipped faux-vintage china.