The Greatest Russian, Chinese "Fiction" Books Since 1980

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 280 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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  1. 1. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

    "Life and Fate" is a sweeping epic that explores the human condition during the Siege of Stalingrad in World War II. The novel delves into the lives of a wide range of characters, from soldiers and scientists to children and victims of the Holocaust, providing a stark and unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war, the brutality of totalitarianism, and the resilience of the human spirit. At the same time, it also examines themes of love, loss, and the struggle for freedom and dignity in the face of overwhelming adversity.

  2. 2. Waiting by Ha Jin

    "Waiting" is a story set in China during the Cultural Revolution and its aftermath, revolving around the life of Lin Kong, a military doctor who is torn between his love for two women. He is stuck in an arranged marriage with his traditional wife in the countryside, while he falls in love with a modern, city nurse. The novel explores his 18-year struggle to divorce his wife and marry his lover, depicting the clash between traditional and modern Chinese culture, personal desires, and societal expectations.

  3. 3. Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin

    "Summer in Baden-Baden" is a unique blend of fact and fiction that intertwines the author's own travels to Leningrad with a reimagining of Fyodor Dostoevsky's summer in Baden-Baden, Germany. The narrative shifts between the two journeys, exploring themes of obsession, identity, and the power of literature. The author's fascination with Dostoevsky serves as a lens through which he examines his own life and experiences as a Jew in Soviet Russia, while also providing a fresh perspective on the famous Russian author's life and works.

  4. 4. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

    This novel tells the story of two teenage boys sent to a remote mountain village for re-education during China's Cultural Revolution. There, they meet a local tailor's daughter, who becomes their friend and the object of their shared affection. The boys discover a hidden suitcase filled with forbidden Western classics in Chinese translation, and their lives are forever changed. The books not only awaken their passion for literature, but also allow them to educate the Seamstress, ultimately leading to a heartbreaking love triangle and a tale of personal freedom against the odds.

  5. 5. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

    The book is a science fiction novel that intertwines the cultural revolution of China with a complex narrative involving astrophysics, virtual reality, and alien contact. It follows a disillusioned scientist who, after suffering personal tragedy during the Cultural Revolution, sends a message into space, only to receive a response from an alien civilization on the brink of destruction. As the aliens plan their migration to Earth, a secret organization works to facilitate the invasion, while a disparate group of scientists and military personnel attempt to understand and prevent the impending extraterrestrial crisis. The novel grapples with themes of human nature, technological advancement, and the vast, often incomprehensible universe.

  6. 6. The Clay Machine-gun by Victor Pelevin

    "The Clay Machine-gun" is a surreal and complex novel that explores the nature of reality and illusion. The story is set in post-Soviet Russia and follows a protagonist who has multiple identities, including a poet in 19th-century Russia, a 20th-century psychiatric patient, and a 21st-century advertising executive. The narrative moves between these identities and realities, blurring the lines between them and creating a layered and philosophical exploration of Russian society, identity, and the human psyche.

  7. 7. Happy Moscow by Andrey Platonov

    "Happy Moscow" is a satirical novel set in the Soviet Union during the height of Stalinist rule, following the life of a young woman, Moscow Chestnova, who is named after the capital city. Despite the harsh realities of life under an authoritarian regime, she maintains a positive and optimistic outlook, symbolizing the Soviet Union's propaganda that promoted an image of a happy and prosperous society. The novel, through its characters and their experiences, explores the paradoxes and contradictions of the Soviet society, challenging the official narrative of happiness and prosperity.

  8. 8. Death Of A Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

    "Death Of A Red Heroine" is a crime novel set in 1990s Shanghai, China. The story follows Inspector Chen Cao as he investigates the murder of a young woman, whose body is found in a canal. As Chen delves deeper into the case, he uncovers a web of corruption, political intrigue, and personal secrets that challenge his loyalty to the Communist Party and force him to confront the complexities of modern Chinese society. Through vivid descriptions of Shanghai's changing landscape and insightful commentary on social issues, the novel offers a captivating portrayal of a country in transition.

  9. 9. Heavy Wings by Zhang Jie

    "Heavy Wings" is a novel that explores the societal changes in China during the late 20th century. It follows the story of a group of innovative engineers striving to design and build China's first large-scale commercial aircraft. Despite facing numerous challenges such as lack of resources, political interference, and personal struggles, they remain committed to their mission, symbolizing the spirit of perseverance and innovation. The story is a reflection of China's journey towards modernization and technological advancement.

  10. 10. Soul and Other Stories by Andrey Platonov

    "Soul and Other Stories" is a collection of short stories that delve into the human condition and the struggle for identity in a world filled with political and social upheaval. The stories are set in a variety of contexts, from the harsh landscapes of Central Asia to the chaos of the Russian Revolution. The characters are often faced with existential crises, grappling with questions of purpose, meaning, and morality. The narrative is marked by a unique blend of philosophical inquiry, poetic prose, and a deep sense of empathy for the human plight.

  11. 11. Half of Man is Woman by Zhang Xianliang

    This novel provides a deeply personal account of the author's experiences during China's Cultural Revolution and his subsequent imprisonment in a labor camp. The protagonist struggles with the harsh realities of his imprisonment, including starvation and physical abuse, while also grappling with his own identity and the societal expectations of masculinity. His release and subsequent marriage only further complicate his quest for self-understanding, as he navigates the challenges of reintegrating into society and maintaining a relationship with a woman who has her own traumatic past.

  12. 12. The Life of Insects by Victor Pelevin

    "The Life of Insects" is a surreal novel that explores the complexities of post-Soviet Russia through the lens of a bizarre seaside community of humans who transform into various types of insects. The narrative unfolds through a series of interconnected stories that delve into the characters' struggles, dreams, and fears, serving as a metaphor for the human condition. The book provides a satirical commentary on society's ills, touching on themes of capitalism, corruption, and the search for identity in a rapidly changing world.

  13. 13. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

    In a 1950s Soviet Union gripped by fear and paranoia, Leo Demidov, a dedicated officer of the state security agency, is faced with a chilling reality: a series of brutal child murders that the government refuses to acknowledge. As Leo defies his superiors and embarks on a dangerous investigation, he becomes entangled in a web of political intrigue and personal danger, risking everything to uncover the truth and protect those he loves. "Child 44" is a gripping thriller that explores the dark underbelly of a repressive regime and the resilience of one man determined to bring justice to a society plagued by secrets.

  14. 14. The Zone by Sergei Dovlatov

    "The Zone" is a semi-autobiographical novel that follows the life of a writer who is confined to a Soviet labor camp. Through a series of vignettes, the protagonist reflects on his experiences in the camp, the absurdities of the Soviet system, and the struggles of maintaining his identity and integrity in the face of oppression. With dark humor and sharp observations, the book offers a poignant and satirical portrayal of life in the Soviet Union.

  15. 15. Love Must Not Be Forgotten by Zhang Jie

    The narrative explores the complexities of love and memory through the lens of a woman who discovers her deceased mother's diary, which reveals a poignant and secret love affair. As the daughter delves into the pages, she confronts her own romantic dilemmas and the societal pressures of 1980s China. The story weaves together themes of personal freedom, the weight of traditional expectations, and the enduring impact of love across generations, prompting the protagonist to reflect on her life choices and the possibility of happiness in her future relationships.

  16. 16. Spring Moon by Betty Bao Lord

    Set against the backdrop of a changing China from the late Qing Dynasty through the Cultural Revolution, the novel follows the life of Spring Moon, a young noblewoman of the Soong family. As she navigates the complexities of tradition and modernity, Spring Moon experiences personal tragedies and triumphs while witnessing the seismic shifts in Chinese society. Her story is one of love, loss, and resilience, reflecting the broader historical forces at play that reshape her country and her family's destiny. Through her eyes, readers experience the clash of old values with new ways, and the struggle to find harmony amidst chaos.

  17. 17. Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov

    The book is a tragicomic novel that follows the story of an unsuccessful writer and divorced father who takes a summer job as a tour guide at the rural estate of a famous Russian poet. As he immerses himself in the petty concerns and daily life of the museum staff and local villagers, the protagonist grapples with his own literary ambitions, the complexities of his personal life, and the cultural legacy of the poet whose memory he is charged with preserving. The narrative is infused with sharp wit and a deep sense of irony as it explores themes of artistic integrity, cultural heritage, and the absurdities of Soviet life.

  18. 18. On The Golden Porch by Tatyana Tolstaya

    "On The Golden Porch" is a collection of short stories that delve into the lives of various characters in Soviet Russia, exploring themes of memory, history, and the complexities of human experience. The narrative weaves through the mundane and the extraordinary, painting vivid portraits of individuals as they navigate the peculiarities of their existence. With a blend of magical realism and sharp social observation, the stories capture the essence of Russian culture and psyche during a time of great change, revealing the resilience and richness of the human spirit in the face of the absurdities of life.

  19. 19. The Garlic Ballads: A Novel by Yan Mo

    The novel is a harsh critique of the Chinese government's agricultural policy. Set in 1980s China, it tells the story of the farmers of Paradise County, who are encouraged by the government to plant garlic, only to find that the government can't or won't buy their crops, leading to violent protests. The narrative is centered around three characters - Gao Yang, who has been arrested for leading the protests; his blind father, Gao Ma, who continues to struggle with the garlic harvest; and Jinju, the woman both men love. The book is a powerful exploration of corruption, love, the human spirit, and the struggle for justice in an oppressive regime.

  20. 20. Soul Mountain by Xingjian Gao

    The novel follows a protagonist who embarks on a journey to the remote mountains of Southwest China after being misdiagnosed with lung cancer. Along the way, he encounters a variety of characters and experiences that lead him to self-discovery and a reconnection with nature. The narrative is filled with philosophical reflections, folklore, and tales of rural China, presenting a complex exploration of the human condition and the struggle for personal freedom.

  21. 21. Medea And Her Children by Lyudmila Ulitskaya

    "Medea And Her Children" by Lyudmila Ulitskaya is a powerful and emotionally charged novel that delves into the complex relationships between a mother and her children. Set in Soviet Russia, the story follows the lives of three generations of women as they navigate the challenges of love, sacrifice, and the oppressive political climate. Through vivid and compelling storytelling, Ulitskaya explores the universal themes of family, loyalty, and the enduring strength of a mother's love.

  22. 22. The Time: Night by Ludmila Petrushevskaya

    The book is a stark portrayal of the struggles faced by a multi-generational family living in the cramped quarters of a Moscow apartment during the twilight years of the Soviet Union. The narrative is driven by the matriarch, a poet who is both resilient and weary, as she navigates the complexities of caring for her mentally unstable daughter and her neglected grandson. The story delves deep into themes of maternal sacrifice, poverty, and the relentless passage of time, painting a grim picture of domestic life and the burdens of womanhood in a society that is as unforgiving as it is oppressive.

  23. 23. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

    Set in 19th century China, the novel centers around the lifelong friendship of Lily and Snow Flower. Despite their different social classes, the two communicate through a secret language known as "nu shu" written on a fan. The story explores the rigid societal norms of the time, particularly the practice of foot binding and arranged marriages. As they navigate through the hardships of their lives, their friendship is tested, leading to a devastating betrayal that impacts their relationship.

  24. 24. Hurramabad by Andrei Volos

    "Hurramabad" is a gripping and thought-provoking novel set in contemporary Russia. The story follows the lives of three young men who find themselves entangled in a web of corruption, violence, and political intrigue in the city of Hurramabad. As they navigate through the complexities of power and loyalty, the characters are forced to confront their own moral dilemmas and make difficult choices that will shape their futures. With its vivid portrayal of a corrupt society and its exploration of themes such as friendship, love, and the pursuit of justice, "Hurramabad" offers a compelling and immersive reading experience.

  25. 25. War Trash by Ha Jin

    The novel is a fictional memoir of a Chinese soldier who is captured during the Korean War and spends several years in American POW camps. He struggles to survive in the brutal conditions and navigate the political rivalries among the prisoners, while holding onto the hope of repatriation and the fear of being labeled a traitor by his own country. The narrative explores themes of loyalty, survival, and the human cost of war.

Reading Statistics

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

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