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Literati, Twitterati Weigh In On Putin's Must-Read Book List

Mikhail Bulgakov, the author of the surrealist masterwork "The Master and Margarita"
Mikhail Bulgakov, the author of the surrealist masterwork "The Master and Margarita"
Putin's notion of a must-read book list for good Russian boys and girls (as well as other good children who may aspire to someday achieve Russianness themselves) has sparked a flurry of conversation in social media circles, including a #100книг Twitter thread.

Some seem like books Putin would choose. Others like books he should choose.

A poll on the Russian social-networking site based on reader suggestions shows a pronounced loyalty for national literature, although not necessarily the books that Putin himself might endorse. Leading the pack in early results was Mikhail Bulgakov's surrealist masterwork "The Master and Margarita."

Historian Nikolai Karamzin
Historian Nikolai Karamzin
It was followed closely by 19th-century writer Nikolai Karamzin's 12-volume "History of the Russian State" and Eduard Uspensky's "Prostokvashino" series of 1970s children's books about a young boy, called Uncle Fyodor, who runs away from home with his cat and dog to resettle in Prostokvashino, or Buttermilk Village. (The books were subsequently adapted into a popular animated series featuring talking birds, cats who sew, and Russian men who do the dishes.)

Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment," Lermontov's "Hero of Our Time," and Gogol's "Dead Souls" also received a chorus of support on the vKontakte poll. More eclectic nominees like "The Dreamers," Soviet writer Nikolai Nosov's collection of humorous children's stories, and Vladimir Bogomolov's 1973 World War II novel, "Moment of Truth," had yet to receive any votes. To be fair, "War and Peace" was vote-free, as well.

Putin's proposal skirted the issue of whether a Russian cultural canon should venture beyond Russian writers. But a number of European works ranked among the most frequent suggestions, including Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince," "The Portrait of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde, and "The Three Musketeers" by Alexandre Dumas.

Robert Conquest
Robert Conquest
Others were more pointed in their suggestions to Putin.

Some recommended historical works looking at the millions of deaths caused by Stalin's collectivization campaign in Ukraine, notably Robert Conquest's "Harvest of Sorrow" and Miron Dolot's "Execution by Hunger." (One commentor wrote: "The Germans do largely understand the horrors of their Nazi past. Russia remains in denial.") Another suggested "Imperium," Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski's examination of the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. One member of the Russian Twitterati suggested a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

There were also hints that Putin -- focused as he is on the notion of a new, post-Soviet Eurasian Union -- would do well to read emigre scholars Nikolay Trubetskoy and Pyotr Savitsky's 1920 Eurasianist manifesto, "Exodus to the East." (Putin might agree with this one.) Finally, there was a nod to Yevgeny Zamyatin's 1921 dystopian novel "We," seen by many as the first literary skewering of industrial-age totalitarianism.

"As I understand it, we're not talking about all books, but about those that reveal something about the Russian character," one reader commented on Twitter. "That's why I prefer Zamyatin's 'We' to Orwell!"

-- Daisy Sindelar

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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