Tuesday, January 7, 2014


While I'm on the theme of "Contemporary Classics," I'd like to mention another worthy novel.  When I first read it, I did not fully appreciate the depth and insight of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.  It is written from the perspective of a dying man as he shares his reflections on life, which he would like to leave as a legacy for his young son.  The narrator's voice is gentle and thoughtful, balancing his mistakes with his accomplishments and frequently pausing to reconsider his various life events.  The big difference for me between my two readings of this text was the death of my own father.  Before I experienced this loss, I breezed over the soft musings without grasping their depth.  But after going through my own grief, I passionately clung to his reflections, and tears frequently glistened in my eyes as I nodded in understanding.

The narrator of the book is John Ames, a reverend in small-town Iowa, who started a family very late in his life.  He shares some early memories of his father and grandfather, who were both pastors as well, and the early tragedies he faced as a young man.  In writing to his son, he expresses how his late marriage to the boy's mother was one of the greatest joys of his life, a relationship as unexpected and unique as it was satisfying and special.  He also expresses many of his theological beliefs and doubts, recalling his past sermons and the years he spent shepherding the small church.  Yet he does this without a touch of arrogance, instead emphasizing his flaws and jealousies in the spirit of transparent humanism.

Somewhat unintentionally, Ames shifts his journal to recounting the story of his best friend's son, Jack Boughton.  Ames has been involved in Jack's life since the day he was born, as he was named after the humble reverend.  However, the relationship has been colored by jealousies, concerns, shames, and disappointments.  Ames cares for Jack but doesn't know quite how to respond to him.  He worries over Jack's influence on his own young family, but he also feels guilty for holding such worry.  A bit reluctantly, Ames reveals Jack's "prodigal son" story piece by piece, filling it with his mixed emotions and personal struggles involved.  Four years after publishing Gilead, Robinson wrote a companion novel called Home, which tells the story of Jack Boughton from a different perspective.

The structure of this novel is not shaped around a fast-moving plot that demands your attention, which is probably why I missed so much of the inspiration of it in my first reading.  But I do not mean to suggest that it is boring, for as I approached the book with new eyes in my second reading, I consumed the pages within just two days of first picking it up.  The words nourished me, though they also reminded me of the sadness from which I had been moving away.  Most significantly, however, they reminded me of the meaningful change that the sadness had instilled in me over the last two years.

Thus, if you are looking for a page-turner, this might not be the best book for you.  But if you have been through any kind of sorrow in your life - whether it was a death or a personal struggle - I think that Robinson's words will rise from the pages and speak into your heart.  The narrator's unassuming tone allows for connection without self-importance, revealing just how universal so much of our human suffering can be.  And the most hopeful, inspiring thing we can draw from our suffering is an acknowledgement of the beauty within it.  All the imperfections and disappointments, the tragedies and mishaps, can contain a brilliant spark of beauty if we are only willing to look for it.

“Our dream of life will end as dreams do end, abruptly and completely, when the sun rises, when the light comes.  And we will think, All that fear and all that grief were about nothing.  But that cannot be true.  I can’t believe we will forget our sorrows altogether.  That would mean forgetting that we had lived, humanly speaking.  Sorrow seems to me to be a great part of the substance of human life.”

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Happy New Year!  While I was wandering through my favorite bookstore, the owner encouraged me to pick up a copy of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery.  With a twinkle in his eye, he told me that he carefully observes people's reactions to this particular novel.  He believed that it would elicit a strong reaction from readers and that he could evaluate their literary taste entirely by their reaction to this book.  I was a little apprehensive as I began reading, but fortunately, I can truthfully say that I liked it.  And since it was written in 2008, I will now happily add it to my "Contemporary Classics" list.

The novel is about two kindred spirits - a middle aged concierge named Renee and a 12 year-old girl named Paloma.  Both women are extremely intelligent, passionate about literary culture, and disenchanted with wealthy elitists.  The chapters rotate between each woman's perspective, and readers discover countless parallels long before Renee and Paloma become friends.  They each hide their intelligence from the world, believing that no one would understand or accept their true nature.  Their unusual dynamic makes the story quite charming, but the wisdom embedded in the pages is what I believe makes it "classic."  Thus, the easiest way for me to encourage discussion about this book is to draw from some of its best quotes.

“We are all prisoners of our own destiny, must confront it with the knowledge that there is no way out and, in our epilogue, must be the person we have always been deep inside, regardless of any illusions we may have nurtured in our lifetime.”

When we first meet Renee, she has so fully accepted the social caste of her role as a hotel concierge that she discounts any possibility of change.  She has shut everyone out of her life, burying herself instead in the world of books.  Yet although books have extraordinary value, they cannot replace human connection.  Yes, there are certain things that we must accept in this world, and it would be futile to fight against them.  However, we should not allow our assumptions to suffocate the possibility of surprise.  Instead, that knowledge can allow us to welcome the changes in our lives without fear or restraint, knowing that it will only add to the person we have always been and will continue to be.  In my opinion, this is a big part of Barbery's message as Renee slowly opens up to the people who truly value her.

“We never look beyond our assumptions and, what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves. We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors.”

I think that this is a valuable insight from Paloma, but I also believe that it is too sweeping of a statement. Although we may have this tendency, we can make a conscious effort to see other people as they really are.  Paloma shares Renee's despair, but she does not approach it with the same begrudging acceptance.  Instead, she dramatically decides that she will commit suicide unless she can find a good reason to stay alive.  Surrounded by shallowness, she craves intellectual depth and intimate connection, but fears that it is impossible to have both.

“Elsewhere the world may be blustering or sleeping, wars are fought, people live and die, some nations disintegrate, while others are born, soon to be swallowed up in turn – and in all this sound and fury, amidst eruptions and undertows, while the world goes its merry way, bursts into flames, tears itself apart and is reborn: human life continues to throb. So let us drink a cup of tea.”

I love this concept; it's simple and elegant.  Yes, the world is sometimes terrible and sometimes wonderful.  In my personal experience, I find that it is vastly out of my control, and I just have to let go and accept that.  Yet rather than viewing this as a frightening concept, I like the way it is presented here, with a peaceful acceptance and specific comfort.  Let us band together with our friends in the ups and downs of life, and let us drink a cup of tea (or coffee!) as we deal with them.

Finally, I want to be careful not to spoil the ending, but I just want to say that I found it to be profoundly beautiful.  It did not go as I had expected, but the final musings are the ones that most resonated with me and wrapped me with a deep connection to the story itself.  So I will now leave those words with you:

“Maybe that’s what life is about: there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never.”

Thursday, December 19, 2013


I placed Germinal by Emile Zola on my "To Read" list quite a while ago, inspired by a fellow book blogger.  Yet for whatever reason, I felt no hurry or strong incentive to read it.  As far as I know, none of my friends have read this novel, and it wasn't coming up in any conversations.  I really didn't know much about it and had few expectations.  But as it had been sitting patiently in my Kindle for such a long time, I finally decided to get to it.  By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked, and I flew through the novel far more quickly than I anticipated, lapping up the rich details, volatile plot, and heart-wrenching emotion.

This is the story of a working-class community of miners living with and fighting against the cycles of poverty and oppression that consume them.  We quickly become aware of this cycle, as low wages and frequent pregnancies wash over the people with the consistent and inescapable pull of the tide.  The protagonist is Etienne, a young man who has fallen from his higher class position into this role as a miner.  Despite their cultural differences, the miners eventually welcome Etienne into their community, recognizing that his hard work and earnest heart overshadow the traits he lacks.  He moves in with the Maheu family, where he befriends their daughter Catherine, and falls in love with her amid a messy love triangle.  Their sexual tension burns through the pages, offering a hint of innocent purity in the midst of rampant promiscuity.

Throughout this process, the injustice of the miners' lifestyle pulses as the undercurrent of the story.  We catch glimpses of the wealthy upper crust as they collect from the miners without investing a fraction of their effort.  Even within the community, we see the families who have money take advantage of those who do not.  We watch the miners suffer physical, mental, and sexual abuse in their gritty attempt to keep living.  We observe traces of hope float in among them only to be blown out of their reach.  Their crisis steadily builds upon their labored shoulders, as one breaking point leads to another.  There is not one single event that pushes them into chaos, but a growing desperation forces out their other options.  They're determined and rash, stubborn and hopeful, generous and terrible.  Yet all of their emotions become painfully suffocated as their situation becomes increasingly dire.

Zola was able to make the descriptions and emotions so raw and realistic because he immersed himself in a mining community to research it.  The strength of this novel lies in its suffering people and their fierce desire to keep living despite the increasingly heart-breaking circumstances.  Their struggle is at times clumsy and at times brilliant, and Zola manages to polish it off with the faint sound of hope ringing in the distance.  Germinal's revolutionary and desperate spirit is akin to other stories of French revolt, such as Les Miserables and A Tale of Two Cities.  However, this novel was the 13th in a 20 volume series, though it has far outshone all of Zola's other writing since its original publication in 1885.  If, like me, you were waiting for someone to give you an extra push to pick up this piece of wonderful French literature, I hope my brief discussion does the trick.  You won't regret it.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, is one of those well-known texts we learn in school and quote regularly, especially as we long to "live deliberately."  Yet although I was certainly familiar with this famous piece of work, I had never actually read it in its entirety.  I took ownership of it, visiting Walden Pond itself and quoting my favorite lines, but I didn't realize that the excerpts I read in school were part of a much larger work.  So when I finally sat down to read the book, I was immediately intrigued and in complete agreement with his assessments.  I felt inspired as Thoreau stressed the need to escape the mundane routines and live more thoughtfully. 

However, many passages were verbose, presenting themselves as diatribes rather than reflections.  Other parts were so intimately detailed as to be excessive in description, tempting my eyes to skim the page quickly rather than capture every word.  At times I smirked in my dissent with his views, inwardly chuckling at the pretentious nonsense he considered to be self-evident truths.  And then suddenly a passage would strike me at my core, resounding deeply through my mind and body as I encountered it. 

Allow me to give an example.  I was working through his chapter on “The Ponds,” which is full of lavish descriptions of his most beloved landscape.  However, I have seen this pond in person, and I am not nearly as impressed with its beauty as this chapter would indicate.  It’s just a pond.  You can see the whole thing quite easily in one glance, as it is not very large.   It’s quiet and still, with no evidence of teeming life and movement within its waters.  The woods surround it on all its edges except where we have now inserted a paved road.  In the summer, it is full of people splashing and swimming in it, and the autumn offers some lovely fall colors around it.  Nevertheless, it’s just a pond. Yet to Thoreau’s eyes, this was the embodiment of heaven on earth.  He had no trouble filling pages and pages with descriptions of it and sonnets dedicated to it.  He would not have had to travel very far to reach the more beautiful coasts of Cape Ann or Cape Cod, which share the same borders but offer far more extravagant views.  But nothing would have been able to surpass the quiet elegance of Walden Pond for Thoreau, and I have a feeling that no amount of persuasion could have convinced him to change his mind.

                        (This is one of my personal photos of Walden Pond)

I have seen some spectacular landscapes in the world, even within this past year.  And yet reading Walden has brought me to wonder how they truly appear outside my biased viewpoint.  When I return to the places I love the most, will they still contain all of their majesty in my eyes?  Despite his lavish descriptions of the pond, Thoreau has one moment of self-awareness in this chapter, which struck me deeply.  He wrote that despite the adjustments people had made around Walden Pond, “it is itself unchanged, the same water which my youthful eyes fell on; all the change is in me.”

It's hard to fully explain why this line meant so much to me, particularly at the time I read it.  When I find myself traveling in other parts of the world or returning to the places I already know well, I think it's incredibly healthy to recognize that all the change is in me.  We have very little control over the circumstances in our lives, and we have to continually adjust ourselves in order to keep moving forward.  During this process, we might have the tendency to see things differently, tinged with nostalgia or bitterness, joy or heartbreak.  And while I think it is fine to prefer some locations over others, we must always remember that we are influenced by our own perspective.  Wherever we go, we have to bring ourselves along.  Thoreau's subtle insight broke through the screen I had unknowingly placed before my vision, helping me to appreciate my present situation but also look forward to the future ahead of me.  Regardless of my next step, there has certainly already been a lot of change within me, and I will bring that with me as I move forward.

There is so much wisdom in this beautiful piece of work.  Thoreau says that each man ought to make his life worthy of a person’s deepest contemplation and live it earnestly. Reading this does remind me to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life” so that when I die, I may know that I have truly lived. That is why I am here and that is what I must do.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Doctor Zhivago

Brilliant, it's just brilliant.  I haven't written on this blog in a while, but I must process what I just read and take a moment to publicly sigh in appreciation of it.  I love Russian literature, as you probably know by now, but I have largely focused on the 19th century.  However, there is also a lot of wonderful work from the 20th century, such as Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, a Nobel Prize winner.

I feel like I have to tell you a little bit of Pasternak's story because it does help you appreciate this novel.  Before Doctor Zhivago, Pasternak had only published poetry and gained a fairly significant following from his work.  But during this time, he also quietly worked on his magnum opus, carefully crafting it for ten years.  When he was finished, he sent it to some Russian publishers, but they refused to publish it due to the backlash they might receive.  Ultimately, he handed his manuscript to an Italian publisher, famously telling him: "You are hereby invited to watch me face the firing squad."  The book was an instant sensation across Europe, bringing him international attention as well as Russian persecution.  When he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he was unable to attend the ceremony as he knew he would be denied reentry to his beloved country.

This story is an intimate portrayal of the Bolshevik Revolution.  We know very little of the big picture but grasp the rumors and moments that Dr. Zhivago witnesses.  There is something compelling and ingenious about this structure, even as it is irritating and confusing.  It's written in pieces, cutting in and out of the story abruptly and erratically.  Without an omniscient narrator, we have an opportunity to feel how the Russians must have felt during the revolution, unsure how each side was doing in its grueling struggle.  They could only guess the progress based on whichever rumors reached their towns, carrying in conflicting stories about the various generals and leaders.  Moreover, I couldn't tell whether Pasternak favored one side over the other, the White Army or the Red Army.  Instead, I simply felt Zhivago's earnest desire for the conflict to end, regardless of which side of the revolution would receive credit for it.

Another significant component of the novel is its wide spectrum of characters coming in and out of the text.  Throughout his arduous journey, Zhivago meets a number of different people, some of whom only interact with him in a passing moment.  He talks to people on the train, at the hospital, in labor camps, and at home.  At times, Pasternak will devote a whole chapter to introduce a character and tell his story and then never mention that character again.  I find this incredibly realistic, as we all have fleeting interactions with strangers every day.  In Doctor Zhivago, Pasternak plays with the concept of "coincidence," bringing some of these strangers back into Zhivago's life in the most unexpected moments.  I loved this, for I believe we are always connected with the people around us, whether or not we take the time to recognize it.  Some scenes which should seem important pass quickly with little description, while other nominal scenes are drawn out with great detail.  In presenting the story in this way, Pasternak is challenging the notion of which events are the most important in our lives.  Are they the big occasions such as weddings and funerals?  Or is it the everyday conversations and routines that have a greater impact on us?

In between moments of the story, Pasternak tosses in insightful commentary of human nature, society, revolution, and struggle.  I could pull out dozens of quotes that struck me and can stand on their own merit.  He beautifully weaves in descriptions as well, making the landscape come alive through his pen.  For example, the snow is an important component of the novel, appearing as a recurring motif alongside the characters.  At times it represents the heavy, depressing emotions of the ongoing war.  It powerfully crashes on the land and freezes everything in place.  Yet in other scenes, the snow is a beautiful relief, glittering in the sun with hope and beauty for those who watch it.  It reminds them of childhood play, building snow forts and snowmen.  The snow interacts with the people as one of the characters, evoking various emotions, reflecting their current predicaments, and foreshadowing the future.

I admit that it took some effort for me to get through this whole novel, as its unorthodox structure made it a little more difficult to move quickly through the text.  However, I truly enjoyed every minute of it, feeling enriched by each page.  I feel like Pasternak gave me an incredible understanding of the Bolshevik Revolution, and reading his novel allowed me to experience this piece of history in a realistic way.  Thus, I highly recommend that you read it, as it is an informative, expansive, heartbreaking classic.

For more on Russian literature, check out my lists below:
Great Russian Authors of the 19th Century
Great Russian Authors of the 20th Century

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Beautiful and Damned

In the publication of this novel, F Scott Fitzgerald managed to create a well-written and thoughtful piece of literature without a single redeeming character.  Even up until the very last sentence, I was holding out hope that one of the characters would redeem himself by the end, but I received no such compensation.  I think it would be difficult to finish this novel without feeling that it is a thoroughly depressing book, and it has taken me some time to sort out its value and insight amid this dark cloud.

Like the Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and Damned is set in New York City in the 1920s.  In our collective imagination, we tend to nostalgically think of that period as a series of glamorous parties and raucous fun.  Fitzgerald, however, challenged this perception in his novels by illuminating the darkness within the revelry.  Anthony Patch and Gloria Gilbert are the embodiment of this idealized image and thus are both beautiful and ultimately damned.  If this were a Russian novel, Anthony would represent the "superfluous man" - a person with no career, no generosity, and no productivity in his life.  He constantly considers things he can do for a profession, toying with thoughts of becoming an author or a banker.  He even enters the army for a period of time, with a brief opportunity to rise in the ranks of an officer.  But like Oblomov who could hardly take a step beyond his couch, Anthony never makes an effort to move forward.  Yet throughout the novel, Fitzgerald offers a number of hopeful suggestions for Anthony's self-actualization.  He has so many opportunities to change and improve himself that it becomes maddening to watch his self-destruction by the end.  Thus, I found him to be far more frustrating than any other "superfluous man" I have encountered, though his journey feels entirely (though depressingly) believable.  I can't help but feel that Fitzgerald did a great service to Gatsby by killing him at the end rather leaving him to linger in his broken and meaningless life.

Gloria's character is hardly better, as she fails to discover any deeper value beyond her appearance.  As we all know, this is a temporary gift, and its departure creeps upon Gloria like a lurking shadow of inevitable doom.  I could hardly feel sorry for Gloria in her relationship with Anthony, as they had both contributed to the demise of their marriage.  Not even their friends offer glimpses of hope and goodness, as they either abandon the couple or immerse themselves in their own clouds of self-importance.

So why should we bother with this novel?  Why am I including it in my blog?  Despite the negativity, there is a lot of truth that rings out from these pages.  In a way, I feel like Fitzgerald showed courage to create a novel that lacked redemption.  These stories exist in real life; not everything results in some hope or success.  By creating these characters, I think Fitzgerald was giving his readers a warning, telling them to guard themselves against all the frivolous indulgence that led to the characters' damnation.  There are things we can learn from their failures, lessons we can apply in our own lives.  Anthony is full of excuses, but there might be some truth in his reflection: "I've often thought that if I hadn't got what I wanted, things might have been different with me.  I might have found something in my mind and enjoyed putting it in circulation.  I might have been content with the work of it, and had some sweet vanity out of the success."

Many people have suggested that it is our failures which define us.  When we face obstacles and challenges in our life, they can become opportunities to grow stronger and more independent than we would have become otherwise.  Hemingway said that writers are forged by the injustices they experienced.  Pasternak said that the downtrodden are enviable for having something to say about themselves.  Perhaps Anthony did have the curse of getting everything he wanted.  Perhaps he needed to experience failure so that he could learn to move beyond it.  Perhaps we really are forged by the fire in our lives, though I do not remove personal responsibility to live well and deeply.

I have heard that people believe this novel to be a fairly autobiographical account of Fitzgerald's marriage, and all I can say is that I hope this is not true.  But even if it is true, I hope that we can learn from this example to consciously put meaning into our lives.  It is our responsibility to "suck the marrow out of life" and determine how we can leave the world a little better than the way we found it.  I don't think any of us want to end our lives in the way that Fitzgerald ended this novel.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Great Russian Authors, 20th Century

One of my earliest blog entries was a list of my favorite Russian authors from the 19th Century, called Great Russian Authors.  I have been surprised to see that this list has consistently been one of my top viewed posts, and the only one from my first year of blogging that maintains any attention.  Thus, there seems to be a fair amount of interest from the book blogging community and others to learn more about Russian Literature.  Because I am such a big fan, I am eager to share it with anyone who is intrigued by it as well.  So now I would like to follow up and offer you a list of the great Russian authors from the 20th Century:

1. Mikhail Bulgakov (1891 - 1940)
Early in his career life, Bulgakov discovered his great passion and affinity for writing.  He quickly abandoned his other pursuits and took on some high profile positions as a critic and a playwright.  However, he generated a lot of backlash for his writing, and many of his works were censored and banned. His freedom was increasingly restricted, and in frustration he wrote his brilliant, biting satire, The Master and Marguerita, in the last years of his life.  Yet because of its daring content, it wasn't published until 26 years after his death.

2. Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918 - 2008)
Perhaps the embodiment of 20th Century Russian literature, Solzhenitsyn revealed to the world the corrupt and violent nature of Soviet Russia.  In 1945, he was sent to a Siberian labor camp for writing derogatory comments about Stalin in a letter.  The 8 years he was imprisoned had a profound impact on his life and writing.  One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich spread through the West like wildfire, but it was just the beginning.  In addition to many fictional pieces, he wrote countless articles and essays that have carried an immense impact on intellectual society.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970, but he was exiled and stripped of his Russian citizenship until 1990.

3. Anna Akhmatova (1889 - 1966)
One of the few prominent female authors in her generation, Akhmatova is most renowned for her poetry.  It is said that the women in Russia showered her with support and admiration, and the men were likewise complimentary.  Yet after a period of notoriety, her work was banned and denounced in the 1920s.  Although she escaped arrest, many of her friends were exiled and sent to labor camps.  Her ex-husband was executed and her son was imprisoned.  Nevertheless, she refused to leave her home country and continued writing poetry.  As the years continued, the themes of her poems evolved from romance and beauty to suffering and lamentation.

4. Boris Pasternak (1890 - 1960)
Leo Tolstoy was actually a close friend of the Pasternak family, and his influence is embedded throughout Boris's life and writing.  However, Pasternak's style is entirely his own; his perspective on the Bolshevik Revolution is brilliant, cutting, and totally unique.  Despite great risk and suffering, Pasternak refused to leave Russia during the tumult.  His name was added and removed from execution lists during the Great Purge.  When Pasternak published Dr. Zhivago in 1956, he knew he was taking an enormous risk.  When he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1958, angry threats and demonstrations broke out in the Soviet Union.  Because he would be refused re-entry if he left, he had to decline the acceptance of the award in Stockholm.

5. Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Nabokov was born into great wealth and privilege.  However, his family had to flee Russia and his father was ultimately murdered in 1922, a tragedy that irrevocably shook his life and later writing. Most of his early work was poetry, and he moved to the USA to work as a college professor in 1940.  It was during his years in the US that he wrote Lolita, his most famous and enduring piece of work.  With its success, he moved back to Europe and devoted himself to writing, though he was never able to surpass its literary acclaim.

6. Ayn Rand (1905-1982)
This may surprise you, but I want to add Rand to this list.  She was born and raised in Russia, though she eventually became an American citizen and did all of her writing in the United States.  She is a fabulously brilliant and inventive author, and her work was dedicated to philosophical reasoning and satire.  Her first novel, We the Living, is the only one set in Russia with an overt message about her native land.  However, her devotion to individualism, capitalism, and rationalism were undoubtedly affected by her years in the restrictive Soviet state.  The Fountainhead is my current favorite of her works, but I still have much more to read.

7. Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996)
Yet another Nobel Prize winner, Brodsky is most known for his poetry and essays.  It kind of amazes me how many of these Russian authors were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature during such a prohibitive regime.  During his time in Russia, Brodsky was interrogated, thrown into mental institutions, arrested, sent to labor camp, and ultimately exiled.  Today he is one of the most celebrated Russian poets, and he was mentored by Akhmatova.  One poem I recommend was written in English near the end of his life, called "Bosnia Tune."

Though I truly believe that the 19th Century was the Golden Age of Russian Literature, the authors I have listed are also brilliant and extremely praiseworthy.  It is important to note that many of these writers produced their work in a time of strict censorship and at the risk of severe punishment.  They are also highly influenced by the Russian authors who preceded them, and they frequently allude to 19th century literature in their work.

If you are aware of another 20th century Russian author whom you believe deserves to be included in this list, please let me know in the comments!  I would be thrilled to learn of another author and happy to give you credit for the suggestion.