7 American books that Russians know even better than Americans

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We decided to make a list of those American writers and their literary masterpieces that all Russians have heard of and probably even read. But we also did our compilation with those books in mind that contemporary Americans no longer hold in high regard, unlike their parents and grandparents.

Russians are a nation of reading and they know the classics of American literature, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, JD Salinger’s The catcher in the rye, that of Ernest Hemingway The old Man and the Sea, and that of Herman Melville Moby Dick. You might be surprised how well Russians know the following authors and their books. As the United States becomes a very diverse society, the literary canon changes to reflect these tastes, meaning that many classic American novels are being ignored and forgotten. But not in Russia!

1. Mark Twain – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

You are probably going to argue and say that Mark Twain is well known in the United States, but almost all Russian kids have read either The adventures of Tom Sawyer, Where The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the sequel to Sawyer’s friend.

The main reason for the popularity of these American characters was the brilliant showing of Soviet films by order of the state. Let’s also not forget that the fictional city from the book of Twain is actually called Saint Petersburg!

By the way, Twain was one of the first American tourists to visit Russia, which he later recalled in a travel memoir, Innocents abroad (1869), and in the early 1900s he welcomed proletarian author Maxim Gorky to the United States

Here you can read more about Twain’s visit to Russia.

2. Ray Bradbury – The Martian Chronicles

Americans under 50 may not know this author very well, but almost all Russian families have him in their library because the Soviets published a special edition of Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. Censors considered science fiction literature amongthe least subversive, and has generously rewarded such books with a huge circulation.

In addition, there were at least six screenings of the Chronicles’ episodes in the Soviet Union, as well as in modern Russia.

For whatever reason, over the past decade, Bradbury’s Dandelion wine has become extremely popular among young Russians, mainly hipsters.

3. O. Henry – The ransom of the red chief, ashort story

Several of this author’s short stories have become very popular, such as “The Gift of the Magi”. Thanks to iconic Soviet director Leonid Gaidai, three of O. Henry became familiar to the Soviet people. The 1962 film, Strictly commercial, wasbased on “The Roads We Take”, “Makes the Whole World Kin” and “The Ransom of Red Chief”.

As you may have already noticed, Russians love adventure stories based on historical plots, which they find a bit exotic. Particularly because of “The Red Chief’s Ransom”, many Russian children still play pretending they are Indians, or just bad boys.

4. James Fenimore Cooper – The Last of the Mohicans

The first Russian translation of this book appeared in 1833, just a few years after it was first published in English. During the 19th and 20th centuries it was translated several times.

Much like in English, “The Last of the Mohicans” has become a popular aphorism in the Russian language, meaning a final, rare and unique example of anything. This book is now available to schoolchildren for summer reading.

However, neither the Soviet nor Russian filmmakers screened this book – they chose another work by Cooper: The Pathfinder, or the Inland Sea. The role of the protagonist Natty Bumppo was the last role of the legendary Soviet actor Andrei Mironov.

5. Jack London – Hearts of three, Where White Fang

Have you ever heard of this author? Well, the Russians know him very well. At school, most of us read White Fang, the story of a wolfdog during the Alaska Gold Rush. This story leaves Richard Gere and the story of his dog Hachi far behind in terms of drama. And you know what? One of the first screenings of this story was filmed in the Soviet Union!

Another popular book from London was Hearts of three. In fact, the author wrote it thinking it might be an adventurous script for Hollywood, but the studio ignored it. However, the Hearts of three was made into a hugely popular film in 1992.

However, most Russian children would think London is a British writer. As you know, “London is the capital of Great Britain” is the first sentence we learn in English lessons.

6. Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-five, or the children’s crusade

Russians are big fans of dystopias and science fiction. Keep in mind that it was early 20th century Russian author Evgeny Zamyatin who actually inspired both 1984, and Huxley Brave New World. (Learn more about him)

Therefore, our list includes Vonnegut’s description of the WWII bombing of Dresden which he witnessed as a POW and took refuge in a slaughterhouse. Of course, the Soviets were interested in reading anything about WWII, especially when the Red Army liberated a country. Vonnegut’s work was for a time censored and banned in the United States, but it was always extremely popular in the USSR.

7. William Faulkner – Sound and fury

During the very first Soviet-American TV Bridge in July 1986, a Russian woman said that if she was only going to the United States once, she would rather visit Oxford, Mississippi – the hometown of writer William. Faulkner. The American host, Phil Donahue, was extremely surprised both that the lady knew where Faulkner was born and that she even knew this writer, who is not very well known in the United States.

Although Faulkner is not included in Russia’s compulsory school curriculum, the Sound and fury is part of all high school programs for the humanities.

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