Books like Schulz, Babel, Bulgakov?
September 2, 2015 3:57 PM   Subscribe

Please can you recommend books similar to Bruno Schulz's, Isaac Babel's and Bulgakov's Master & Margarita?

Recently unintentionally reading Bruno Schulz, Isaac Babel and Bulgakov's 'master and margarita', i noticed a similar feel to them. All wrote in periods of high uncertainty, war and revolution. Babel wrote "passion controls life" and i thought, if you lived through the massive pogroms of late C19 Russia, WW1 then revolution and civilwar, that would be your whole experience of life, your normal, and all three of them lived like this, that's what's similar about the books? Revolution releases all sorts of new and unexpected ideas to ferment, is it life in ferment which pervades all 3? Or is early Soviet fiction (which Schulz isn't) just so little-known, unlike the poetry? (mayakovsky, blok, mandelstam, tsvetaeva, akhmatova) Clearly there is no obvious answer. I have decided to try Grossman's 'life and fate', and i've heard of Platonov. Varlam Shalamov is beyond depressing. Maybe the jewish/russia/early C20 axis is wrong, maybe unifies them is something else, which features in other books? Please suggest anything that occurs to you! Though looking for fiction, will try any suggestions! Thanks a lot!
posted by maiamaia to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: maybe it is magical realism but different from southamerican that unites them?
posted by maiamaia at 3:59 PM on September 2, 2015

I literally just got my copy of The Street Of Crocodiles in the post! Well, yesterday. But still! I have also tried Platonov but found he wasn't to my taste.

My only recommendation is that you may want to investigate the work of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Three of his collections have had recent re-releases by the always-excellent NYRB Classics.
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:35 PM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

What about Q? It doesn't feel Russian at all, but it's certainly a deeply felt novel of upheaval and intellectual ferment.

Or the work of Victor Serge?

Or maybe Tariq Ali's Islam Quintet?

Doris Lessing's Martha Quest books, perhaps? Cumulatively, they have a lot of force. The first one is more of a family/social novel, but then it's all war, communists, etc.
posted by Frowner at 4:42 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Bely's Petersburg.

I think you'd enjoy Platonov's The Foundation Pit, and the work of Daniil Kharms.

Also, maybe earlier Nabokov (such as Dar) - the ones set in Berlin or Russia?
posted by kickingtheground at 4:57 PM on September 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

Not Russian, but have you read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell? Seems similar to Master and Margarita. How about The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? That's Japanese, but has some magical realism and deals with war in places as I recall.
posted by willnot at 4:58 PM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Kafka!!! He's the major reference point for people talking about Schulz. Reaad The Castle or really anything
posted by raisindebt at 5:48 PM on September 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Life and Fate is absolutely wonderful but not absurdist or magical-realist in the slightest.

Thank you for providing my autumn reading list...
posted by Erroneous at 6:27 PM on September 2, 2015

Bernard Malamud's short stories. (Not the novels, which are more realist than magical.)
posted by thetortoise at 8:09 PM on September 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yrvgeny Zamyatin's "We" is a classic, in case you haven't already read that.

If you've got a lot of time on your hands, you could give all four volumes of "And Quiet Flows the Don" by Sholokov a spin.

And in case you're in the mood for a bit of non-fiction, Simon Sebag Montefiore's "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar" is incredible.
posted by ZipRibbons at 1:09 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

You might enjoy some of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s work - The Magician of Lublin, perhaps. Or possibly Gustav Meyrink’s The Golem. Or, from an earlier period: Jan Potocki’s The Manuscript Found in Saragossa.
posted by misteraitch at 1:47 AM on September 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

> If you've got a lot of time on your hands, you could give all four volumes of "And Quiet Flows the Don" by Sholokov a spin.

This is completely the opposite of what the poster is asking for, as is the Grossman (though I second Erroneous's "absolutely wonderful"; it's probably the best WWII novel I've read). This is not about "great Russian/Soviet fiction," it's about "books similar to Bruno Schulz's, Isaac Babel's and Bulgakov's Master & Margarita." I second Platonov and Daniil Kharms.
posted by languagehat at 10:09 AM on September 3, 2015

Response by poster: Dear languagehat, i'm a bit confused about what i'm asking for to be honest, because i'm not sure why i found them similar! A sense that the rulebook had not so much been torn up as vanished in a puff of glittery smoke? A strange fizzing, a lack of gravity, but not in any way like south american magical realism - it took me some time to connect the unexpected magical realism of Schulz with the word-soup poetry of 1920?30?s Germany, which of course is from surrealism/dada... - but magical realism and a gritty, concrete, specific time and place and people - Russia under the start of Stalin's terror (Bulgakov), the insanity, violence and anarchy of Russia's revolution and WW1 (Babel) etc? I am sure many similar questions have been posted, but mine is so vague i couldn't search for such a question!
posted by maiamaia at 2:01 PM on September 3, 2015

Well, I defer to your judgment of course, but both the Grossman and Sholokhov are very traditional, nineteenth-century-type novels (in fact, War and Peace was a large influence on both), and if that's what you wanted I presume you would have just asked for great novels. I get a sense of what you're after, even if it's hard to pin down, and I think "fizzing" and "a lack of gravity" are both great descriptors that should weed out some of the less relevant suggestions.
posted by languagehat at 2:46 PM on September 3, 2015

I'm not 100% sure if these fit your criteria, but I would recommend The Cyclist Conspiracy by Svetislav Basara, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Jan Potocki, The War of the Newts by Karel Čapek, and the many wonderful short stories of Zoran Živković.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:10 PM on September 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

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