Among the hundreds of books that crossed my desk in the ten years of writing Marina’s story, I returned to certain books again and again. To these I owe a special debt of gratitude, as I would a person who shared his or her wealth of experience, work and knowledge with me.
If the reader is curious to further explore the world of The Revolution of Marina M and Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, I’d like to introduce you to a few of my favorite books.
Diaries and Memoirs
In writing a historical novel, diaries and memoirs are often of far more use than histories, as they contain the detail of everyday life. How did it feel to live through those times? What did people know, and what didn't they know? What did they eat, what did they worry about? A novelist is interested in the texture of life as it affected individuals. Most average people have no idea what’s going on in the halls of power, but live their effects. Women’s memoirs are exceptionally useful—they simply pay more attention to the ordinary, everyday details. Men rarely say how the diapers were washed.
In The Shadow of Revolution: Life Stories of Russian Women from 1917 to the Second World War, edited by Sheila Fitzpatrick and Yuri Slezkine. Sheila Fitzpatrick is one of the great social historians of our time. Her name will recur in this roundup of books.
Memories of Revolution: Russian Women Remember, edited by Anna Ho.
A Revolution of Their Own: Voices of Women in Soviet History, edited by Barbara Engel and Anastasia Posadskaya-Vanderbeck.
Speak Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. This is a treasure which should be on every library’s shelves, Nabokov was roughly contemporary with Marina and their families would have moved in the same circles.
The Italics are Mine, by Nina Berberova. The novelist's memoir, coming of age during the Revolution, in Petrograd. She was an exact contemporary of Marina's.
Tomorrow Will Come by E.M. Almedingen. A young woman iwho would have been a contemporary of Marina's.
A Sentimental Journey by Victor Skhlovsky, a memoir of the revolutionary years by the great modernist literary critic, written in a fragmented style reflecting his theory of “defamiliarization.” His autobiographical Zoo, or Letters not About Love, about his stay in Berlin just after the revolution is also terrific.
No Day without a Line: From Notebooks by Yury Olesha, translated by Judson Rosengrant. The author of Envy, looking back on his development as a writer during the revolutionary years.
Diary 1901-1969 by Kornei Chukovsky, translated by Michael Henry Heim. A central figure in Russian literary life in this period, Chukovsky lived in Petrograd, and was one of the few writers to survive to a natural death. An immensely popular children’s writer (a skillful move politically) he became Russia's Dr. Seuss.
To the Memory of Childhood by Lydia Chukovskaya. Lydia was the daughter of Kornei Chukovsky. Lucky her. Also an intimate of Anna Akhmatova, helping preserve many of the poet’s works by memorizing them.
Ten Days that Made a Revolution by John Reed. The fiery American journalist upon whose life the movie Reds was based. An hour by hour report of the ten days of the October Revolution through Reed’s excitable eyes.
Six Red Months in Russia by Louise Bryant. Bryant and Reed traveled together and wrote their books side by side, The American feminist and anarchist Bryant had a quite different take on the revolution.
Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge. A brilliant writer, revolutionary, historian and novelist.
Living my Life by Emma Goldman, also My Disillusionment in Russia. The famous American anarchist arrives in Russia in 1920, deported by the US along with 1000 other leftists of many stripes to Soviet Russia aboard the USS Buford. She plays a major part in Chimes of a Lost Cathedral.
Russia in the Shadows by HG Wells. Wells was a Laborite, and his visit to Soviet Russia caused a certain havoc among the Russian intelligentsia. But his take is not as naïve as the intelligentsia feared.
Tolstoy and other Reminiscences by Maxim Gorky, also The City of the Yellow Devil. Gorky's portrait of Tolstoy is unrivalled, as is the one of Chekhov. The Yellow City is about his visit to America before the revolution. Fascinating reading. Gorky singlehandedly saved the Russian intelligentsia from starvation during the Revolution, and appears as a major character in Chimes of a Lost Cathedral.
Moscow Diaries by Marina Tsvetaeva. One of the great poets of the Russian Silver age, fiery, self-destructive, romantic, brilliant.
Witness to Revolution: the Russian Revolution Diary and Letters of J Butler Wright (Praeger Studies in Diplomacy and Strategic Thought) by William T. Allison. Daily events inside the American Embassy in Petrograd.
Notes of a Red Guard by Nikolai Punin; also Diaries of Nikolay Punin. Revolutionary life through the eyes of a famous art critic.
The Bolsheviks in Power by Alexander Rabinowich: also the Bolsheviks Come to Power. These are hands-down the best modern histories of the Russian Revolution. Rabinowitch is the grand master. Well-indexed. Now in shreds.
Bread and Justice by Mary McAuley. This social history of the Revolution in Petrograd was invaluable. Labor history, education, women’s lives, opposition movements, the strike movement, everything about daily life. Essential.
The Russian Revolution by Sheila Fitzpatrick. A compact history of the Revolution, the perfect introduction by this fine historian.
Year One of the Russian Revolution by Victor Serge
The Russian Revolution Vol. II by William Henry Chamberlin. Civil War period.
Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime by Richard Pipes
Red Victory by W. Bruce Lincoln
The Russian Civil War by Evan Mawdsley. This was a brilliant book.
Hungry Moscow: Scarcity in Urban Society in the Russian Civil War by Mauricio Borrero. The importance of food shortages in the history of the period.
The Russian Revolution by Leon Trotsky. A fascinating history by one of the Revolution's masterminds. Weigh it in conjunction with less biased accounts, but man, what a writer! The best speaker of the Revolution, and you can see why. He was the intelligent who organized, and led, the Red Army.
The Prophet Armed, by Isaac Deutscher. One of the great historians, Deutscher wrote a three-volume biography of Trotsky, of which this is the first volume.
The First World War, by John Keegan. The definitive account of the Great War. Much use of firsthand reports.
Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy by David Stevenson. Political history of WWI.
A History of the Twentieth Century by Martin Gilbert. It’s important to keep track what was going on in the rest of the world as one watches events unfold in Russia
Revolution in Russia! as reported in the New York Tribune and the New York Herald 1894-1921
Russia in Revolution, 1900-1930, Harrison Salisbury.
The Cheka by George Leggett. A big, invaluable look at the apparatus and history of the political police during the Revolution.
The Soviet Police System by Robert Conquest. Another major historian, author of the The Great Purge.
Essays and Literary Biographies
Nightingale Fever: Russian Poets in Revolution by Ronald Hingley. The perfect introduction to the poets of the Silver Age.
Russian Literature Since the Revolution by Edward J. Brown
Poets on Street Corners: Portraits of Fifteen Russian Poets by Olga Andrea Carlisle. Bilingual edition. With translations by major western poets.
Anna of all the Russias by Elaine Feinstein. Biography of Anna Akhmatova.
Tsvetaeva by Viktoria Schweitzer. Excellent biography of the fiery Marina Tsvetaeva.
Aleksandr Blok by Kornei Chukovsky. Blok was still alive when Chukovsky wrote about his eminent colleague.
Essays on Russian Poetry, Ardis Press. Introduction by Joseph Brodsky. A rare book in English, translations of essays by the Silver Age poets, writing about poetry. A marvel. If you find a copy, don’t lose it!
Theory of Prose by Victor Shklovsky also Energy of Delusion, a book on Plot; Third Factory; Literary theory.
Mayakovsky and his Circle by Victor Shklovsky. Of course, poets run in circles. It’s interesting to think of them as families. Shklovsky knew them all.
The Life of Mayakovsky by Wyktor Worosylski. A compendious, prismatic portrait of the poet through the eyes and words of those who knew him. Features many of Mayakovsky’s hard-to-find poems. I love a biography told this way.
Mayakovsky and his Poetry by Herbert Marshall
Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai
Bolshevik Feminist, the Life of Aleksandra Kollantai by Barbara Evans Cements
Meyerhold on Theatre, edited by Edward Braun
Reilly: Ace of Spies by Robin Lockhart. Lockhart was at the center of the so-called “Lockhart Conspiracy” at the Petrograd British Embassy, and Reilly, actually a Russian, the British agent. A bit ‘whiz bang’ but why not?
Moura: The Dangerous Life of Baroness Budberg, by Nina Berberova. Moura was Gorky’s mistress, a mysterious figure of uncertain politics. She figures in Chimes of a Lost Cathedral.
Poetry and Fiction
As a person with some (but not enough) Russian, I like a bilingual edition when it comes to poetry. It's very hard to translate poetry and fully retain both the music--meter and rhyme--and the meaning. I like going back and forth, to see the rhyme schemes and so on. For most people, Russian speakers and non-Russians alike, this will be irrelevant.
Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, edited by Robert Chandler, Boris Dralyuk, and Irina Mashkina. Boris Dralyuk is the translator of the Russian poetry in Chimes and Marina M.
Modern Russian Poetry . Bilingual edition. edited by Vladimir Markov and Merrill Sparks
20th Century Russian Poetry edited by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution, selected by Boris Draluyk.
The Complete Works of Anna Akhmatova, translated by Judith Hemschemeyer, edited by Roberta Reeder,
Poems of Akhmatova. Bilingual edition. Translated by Stanley Kunitz and Max Hayward
Marina Tsvetaeva: Selected Poems, Translated by Elaine Feinstein
Mandelstam, 50 Poems, translated by Bernard Meares.
Bely, Notes of an Eccentric [“Journals of a Cracked One”, Copenhagen Review, issue 6, translated by Richard Ramsbotham]
Selected works of Nikolai S. Gumilov, translated by Burton Raffel
Electric Iron by Vladimir Mayakovsky, translated by Jack Hirschfield and Victor Erlich (has a Beat feel) also Listen! Early Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets) by Vladimir Mayakovsky, translated by Maria Enzenberger, and The Bedbug and Selected Poetry translated by Max Hayward and George Reavey
Eugene Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Stanley Mitchell; also The Captain’s Daughter translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler,and The Bronze Horseman, translated by DM Thomas.
Envy and other Works by Yuri Olesha, translated by Marina Schwartz
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, translated by Max Hayward and Manya Harari. Glorious, intricate portrait of life and love in revolutionary times. I love this, but the new translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky I’m sure is fantastic as well. Pasternak is a marvel of lyric writing. Won the Nobel Prize.
The Naked Year by Boris Pilnyak, translated by Michael Tollack. Portrait of a small town during the civil war.
White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov, translated by Michael Glenny. Great novel about the civil war, set in the Ukraine, terrific portrayal of a Russian bourgeois family and the chaos of civil war. (Bulgakov’s most well known novel is the astounding The Master and Margarita.)
Cement by Fyodor Gladkov, translated by A.S. Arthur. Need a bit of socialist realism in this lineup. A soldier returns from the civil war to find life very changed.
We the Living by Ayn Rand. A schoolgirl growing up in the Russian Revolution.
Conquered City by Victor Serge, translated by Richard Greeman. Petrograd 1919.
The Dragon: 15 Stories by Yevgeny Zamyatin translated by Mirra Ginsburg. Zamyatin is most famous for his novel about a future privacy-less ‘utopia’, We. Ginsburg also translated Bulgakov’s famed Master and Margarita, as well as his short comic novel Heart of a Dog.
Sumashedshy Korabl’ (Crazy Ship) by Olga Forsch, a novel set a the House of Arts—never translated, alas.
St. Petersburg, Petrograd, Leningrad
Images of Space: St. Petersburg in the Visual and Verbal Arts by Grigory Kaganov and Sidney Monas. This was a beautiful way of understanding how various generations saw space and how it went into the shaping of their conception of the city.
Mapping St. Petersburg by Julie A. Buckler
Preserving Petersburg by Helena Gotsilo and Stephen Norris,
How St. Petersburg Learned to Study Itself, the Russian Idea of Kraevedenie, by Emily D. Johnson
Petersburg, The Physiology of a City, edited by Nikolai Nekrasov, translated by Thomas Gaiton Marullo.
Literary St. Petersburg by Elaine Blair
Social and Cultural History, Art
Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes. A controversial historian, but this cultural history is compendious and essential.
Revolutionary Dreams by Richard Stites; also Soviet Popular Culture
Daily Life of Russia under the Tsars by Henri Troyat
Before the Revolution by Kirill FitzLyon and Tatyana Browning. Great pictures.
Deserted: The story of the Children Abandoned in Soviet Russia, Vladimir Zenzinov, Tr. Agnes Platt 1931/reprinted 1975 Hyperion Press.
Russia’s Abandoned Children by Fujimura, with Stoeker and Sudakova.
Now My Soul Is Hardened by Ball et al. Orphan life in Russia.
The Writer in Petrograd and the House of Arts by Martha Weitzel Hickey, Studies in Russian Literature and Theory, Northwestern University Press, 2009. Life at the remarkable House of Arts, home to the greats of Russian literature during the Revolution. Invaluable for Chimes of a Lost Cathedral, part of which takes place at the House of Arts.
Tear off the Masks: Identity and Imposture in 20th Century Russia by Sheila Fitzpatrick
Food in Russian History and Culture by Musya Glants and Joyce Toomere
Russian Fairy Tales, Senate, first published as Russian Wonder Tales, Post Wheeler, A X C Black, London 1912
The Bathhouse at Midnight: Magic in Russia by W.F. Ryan
Madam Blavatsky’s Baboon by Peter Washingon. A debunker-style history of Theosophy, Anthroposophy and other schools of Russian mysticism.
The Gurjieff Work by Kathleen Riordan Speeth. A look at the charismatic cult figure.
The Avant Garde in Russia 1910-1930: New Perspectives by Stephanie Barron and Maurice Tuchman. Russian avant garde art and artists.
Moscow & St. Petersburg 1900-1920/ Art, Life and Culture by John E. Bowlt. Beautiful art book by the eminent art historian.
Russian Art and American Money by Robert Cha Williams.
Studio St. Petersburg by Deborah Turbeville. Haunting photography, impressions of ruin and glory.
The ABC of Communism by Nicholas Bukharin, translated by E. A. Preobrazhesnky.
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
Marx for Beginners byRius (comic book style introduction)
State and Revolution by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, intro by Robert Service (an important political historian and Lenin biographer)
What is to be done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky
Anarchism by Peter Kropotkin, also The Conquest of Bread
Song of Triumphant Love with Vera Kholodnaya 1915
Bed and Sofa dir. Abram Room, written by Room and Victor Shklovsky 1927. Comedic picture of early soviet life.
Man with a Movie Camera, dir. Dziga Vertov 1929 Avant-garde Russian cinema at its best.
Kino-Pravda, directed by Dziga Vertov (newsreels)
The Lady and the Hooligan written and starring Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1918
Komissar 1967. Heroic portrayal of woman commissar during the Russian Civil War.
Battleship Potemkin, directed by Sergei Eisenstein. 1925. Iconic modernist filmmaking.
October, directed by Sergei Eisenstein 1927.
Slave of Love, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, 1976, protagonist based on Vera Kholodnaya,
Burnt by the Sun, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, 1994. Best Foreign Language Oscar
Reds, directed by Warren Beatty, 1981. John Reed and Louise Bryant’s outsized love story. Won 3 Oscars.
Doctor Zhivago, directed by David Lean, 1965. Classic. Widescreen adaptation of Pasternak’s novel of love during the Revolution and won five Oscars.
Isadora, 1968. Vanessa Redgrave as the modern dancer. Isadora Duncan arrived in Soviet Russia during the revolution, scandalized the Soviets and married poet Evgeny Essenin.
Kommunalka: Communal Living in Russia, a Virtual Museum of Soviet Everyday Life. So much to love--an inside look at the communal apartments of St. Petersburg, organized by a man who grew up in one, as he takes his children back to see how he was raised. A great look at the kind of grand apartment the Makarovs lived in on Furshtatskaya Street.
Alexander Palace Time Machine. Palaces, aristocratic Russia.
Marxist Internet Archive. Much information on the Revolution.
For serious research, the history database Jstor is invaluable. Log in through your library.