LitBit: Authors Provide Insight Into Contemporary Russian History & Politics

Memoirs and historical fiction captivate the reader with rich, life-like characters and detailed descriptive settings. What we may not realize we’re getting in these stories: well-researched history lessons. A foundational knowledge of contemporary Russian history and politics plays an important role in understanding global events and America’s developing relationship with Russia. To that end, here are four compelling author-speakers whose stories and personal experiences provide crucial insights about the topic:

Amor Towles, A Gentleman in MoscowAmor TowlesA Gentleman in Moscow
In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in an attic room of a high-end hotel while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding. Towles fills his pages with a cast of captivating characters—Soviet leaders, diplomats, international businessmen, and dissidents—whose comings and goings from the hotel provide a lens to the outside world and help readers understand modern-day Russia and its relationship to the rest of the world. “Russian history definitely would not be history without politics,” says reviewer, Jean Lewis. “But here Towles subtlety allows us glimpses and brings real historic personages into play. I found it a fascinating way to learn.” This novel allows you to learn about 20th century Russia, wrapped in a very entertaining story full of eccentric and vividly painted characters that you won’t soon forget.

Lev Golinkin, A Backpack, A Bear, Eight Crates of VodkaLev GolinkinA Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka
In the twilight of the Cold War, nine-year-old Lev Golinkin and his family cross the Soviet border with only ten suitcases, $600, and a vague promise of help waiting in Vienna. Lev’s memoir is the vivid, darkly comic, and poignant story of a young boy in the confusing and often chilling final decade of the Soviet Union. His op-eds and essays on the Ukraine crisis have appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, and, among others.

Elena Gorokhova, Russian Tattoo
Elena Gorokhova, Russian Tattoo
In her captivating memoir, Elena chronicles her experiences as a twenty-something woman emigrating from Russia to the US in the 1980s. Freshly married to (and inevitably divorced from) an American exchange student, Elena begins the process of rediscovering herself in a culture dramatically disparate from that of her homeland and becomes disoriented by seemingly mundane things such as how to eat a hamburger, buy a pair of shoes, or catch a bus. Russian Tattoo speaks to the turbulent life of a young woman searching for identity in the midst of strangeness while clinging to the familiarity of her past.

Naveed Jamali, How to Catch a Russian SpyNaveed JamaliHow to Catch a Russian Spy
For three years, Naveed Jamali spied on America for the Russians, trading thumb drives of sensitive data for cash. Or so the Russians believed. In fact, the young American civilian was a covert FBI double agent. After getting to play the role of a real-life James Bond, Naveed accepted a commission in the US Navy. He is now an exclusive intelligence analyst to MSNBC, especially related to their Russian coverage, and he’s expected to brief Congress on Russia in the near future. How to Catch a Russian Spy is the fast-paced account of intrigue and espionage in post-Cold War New York and the true story of a young American civilian who helped bring down a top Russian intelligence agent on American soil.

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