Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie. This book definitely put me in the mood with it's gorgeous descriptions of Imperial Russia and depictions of Russian life starting in the year 1894. Massie portrays Russia as a dichotomous society in which peasants would take the thatch off their roofs to feed the livestock during the famine while others were decked out in furs and jewels attending opera, lavish balls and numerous other cultural events.When Nicholas's father, the autocrat Alexander III, passes away at 49 years of age, 26 year old Nicholas becomes Tsar of all the Russias; a role he is not prepared for nor does he really want. A week after the funeral, Nicholas marries Queen Victoria's granddaughter; Alexandra, Princess of Hesse Darmstadt. Theirs is a true love match instead of a political alliance marriage that were common at the time among royalty. The story takes us through the reign of Nicholas II witnessing the ever changing face of Russia. Massie gives us a complete picture of the evolving political scene as the fabric of Russia unravels, the country hurtles toward revolution and a tragic ending to the Romanov dynasty. Behind the scenes we see the internal thoughts of the characters as simply human beings in a family not just as mighty rulers. I felt like the proverbial fly on the wall seeing this all happen in such fascinating and intricate detail, heart wrenching though it was. I absolutely loved this book! Highly recommended reading .
My second choice was:Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Translated by Jessie Coulson and with an intro and notes by Richard Peace.From the back cover: Crime and Punishment (1866) is the story of a murder committed on principle, of a killer who wishes by his action to set himself outside and above society. A novel of great physical and psychological tension, pervaded by Dostoevsky's sinister evocation of St. Petersburg. It also has moments of wild humor.
Dostoevsky's own harrowing experiences mark the novel. He had himself undergone interrogation and trial, and was condemned to death, a sentence commuted at the last moment to penal servitude. In prison he was particularly impressed by one hardened murderer who seemed tohave attained a spiritual equilibrium beyond good and evil: yet witnessing the misery of other convicts also engendered in Dostoevsky a belief in the Christian idea of salvation through suffering.
After Raskolnikov commit the murder he considered his punishment to have started immediately; the fear that he would be found out. He's convinced the police know the whole story but are toying with him to drive him insane; a psychological game of cat and mouse between murderer and the police. Several times he is so tempted to just turn himself in and "get it over with".I guess I must have missed the wild humor part because I didn't find any in this story. It was an okay read but if I hadn't read it, I wouldn't feel that I had missed anything special. I know, I know ; it IS one of the world's classics, but still it dragged a little too much for me. Melodramatic overkill would be two words I would choose. I also have The Karamazov Brothers by Dostoevsky on my list. I hope it's a lot better than this one.
One of the more interesting parts of the book, though, was in the introduction about Dostoevsky himself. Like his character, Raskolnikov, he was an abjectly poor student who fled abroad to escape his creditors. While in Wiesbaden, he turned to gambling and lost what little he still had. This is when he conceived the idea for Crime and Punishment.Needing a break from reading about the Russians, I managed to read a few other books in between but then watched two travelogues on Russia. One of them was Russia: Moscow, St. Petersburg and Murmansk. The close ups of St. Basil's cathedral, Red Square and the Kremlin were particularly beautiful but the rest of the video was amateurish and could have had a lot more depth to it. The second video was A Russian Journey. This one was much more professionally done, had some beautiful photography and was very interesting. Did you know the trans-Siberian railway crosses through 8 time zones or that there are 129 different ethnicities in all of Russia? Or the fact that the onion domes actually have a purpose other than just being aesthetically pleasing? The shape of the roofs deters snow from collecting on them and possibly causing roof damage. I really enjoyed this one. Since I just came across the Chunkster challenge for 2010 I decided to save the other books on the list for that challenge. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is 1,455 pages long. That's three chunksters in itself! That's okay because I really like Tolstoy. After all, he wrote my favorite book, Anna Karnenina. The Karamazov Brothers is up in the air as to whether I am going to read it or donate it somewhere.
Disclosure: All of these books are from my personal library and have been purchased by me.