Books | Arts | World | Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

An Olympic Preview, From The Canon Of Russian Literature

NPR | Feb. 5, 2014 4:02 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 5, 2014 7:12 a.m.

Contributed By:

Andrew D. Kaufman

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The Krasnaya Polyana mountain range, viewed from the Olympic host city of Sochi, shows off the stunning landscape of southern Russia.

The Krasnaya Polyana mountain range, viewed from the Olympic host city of Sochi, shows off the stunning landscape of southern Russia.

Getty Images, Richard Heathcote

It is fitting that the Winter Olympics, one of the world’s fiercest competitions, is taking place amid the breathtaking beauty of the Caucasus.

For centuries, Russia’s greatest writers have been inspired by this volatile region full not only of immense natural beauty, but of human misery. No matter how or why these writers came to the area, they found a land full of possibility and pain, rich in beauty, yet rife with violence: in short, a concentrated microcosm of the contradictions of life itself.

These three works, each from different periods of Russian history, will give you unforgettable portraits of the splendor and suffering that comprises the Russian Caucasus. And, at fewer than 160 pages each, you won’t have to sacrifice enjoying the Olympics to give them a go.

Sectarian violence continues to wrack the Caucasus. Russian nationalism is on the rise and Russian imperial ambitions have become more stark. But in these books, there’s a timeless message of universal humanity. In the words of Grossman, “it is time we recognized that all men are brothers.” Indeed.

Andrew D. Kaufman, Russian literature expert at the University of Virginia, is author of Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times, forthcoming with Simon and Schuster. Learn more about him at www.andrewdkaufman.com.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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