The best novels about life in the Soviet Union

Why am I passionate about this?

At the age of 16, I briefly joined the International Socialists, a small British Trotskyist party. Though I soon became disillusioned, it was a formative experience that left me with a lifelong fascination with communism and the Soviet Union. Over the following decades, I read everything I could about the subject, both fiction and non-fiction. In the years after the fall of communism, the ideas that eventually culminated in the writing of this book began to form in my head.

I wrote...

The Price of Dreams

By Paul Clark,

Book cover of The Price of Dreams

What is my book about?

The story of an idealistic Soviet athlete who falls foul of the authorities. Ruslan Shanidza makes little secret of his disdain for the ruling Communists, and when he gets into a fight with the son of a leading a Party member, he comes to the attention of the KGB. Ruslan struggles to pursue his dreams without sacrificing his integrity, but when the KGB arrest his lover for anti-Soviet agitation, they take him in too, aiming to force him to testify against her.

This gripping political thriller is set in the last decade of the Cold War. We follow Ruslan as the Soviet Union begins to crumble and he finds himself caught up in ethnic conflict that reignites with catastrophic results.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Stalin's Door

Paul Clark Why did I love this book?

A brilliant evocation of the paranoia of the Stalin regime and the extraordinary extent of its surveillance of members of the Communist elite. We follow the story of a young girl as her family is destroyed and she is sent to the GULAG. Although it delves deep into the horrors of Stalinist persecution, this book is also an uplifting tale of love, courage, and survival.

By John St. Clair,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Stalin's Door as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the dangerous time of Russia’s Great Terror, a knock on the door late at night could mean only one thing!

Moscow, 1937. As mortal fear engulfs the capital city, a singular man cements his lethal grip of absolute power over an entire nation. Accusations, mass arrests, executions, and deportations become de rigueur. Stalin’s cult of personality is so fearsome, that even a simple question could get you killed—or worse. Stalin’s dreaded secret police, the NKVD, would pit neighbor against neighbor in the insatiable hunt for the spies and saboteurs which threaten the supreme leader’s tyranny. The crisis will irrecoverably…

Book cover of Life and Fate

Paul Clark Why did I love this book?

Grossman consciously attempted to write the War and Peace of the Second World War, and in this panoramic masterpiece, he pulled it off. Like War and Peace, the book focuses both on the travails of a single family and the broader sweep of history, as we witness events from the perspective of persecuted Jewish scientists, soldiers (both Soviet and German), partisans, peasants, and generals.

This is an intensely personal work – Grossman covered the battle of Stalingrad for the Soviet press and knew his subject matter firsthand. Writing it was also an extremely courageous act. The KGB confiscated the manuscript and Grossman never lived to see the book published.

By Vasily Grossman,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Life and Fate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Based around the pivotal WWII battle of Stalingrad (1942-3), where the German advance into Russia was eventually halted by the Red Army, and around an extended family, the Shaposhnikovs, and their many friends and acquaintances, Life and Fate recounts the experience of characters caught up in an immense struggle between opposing armies and ideologies. Nazism and Communism are appallingly similar, 'two poles of one magnet', as a German camp commander tells a shocked old Bolshevik prisoner. At the height of the battle Russian soldiers and citizens alike are at last able to speak out as they choose, and without reprisal…

Book cover of The White Guard

Paul Clark Why did I love this book?

This book goes back to the chaos of the years after the Bolshevik revolution. It is set in Kyiv, which changed hands more than a dozen times during the brutal civil war that followed. The story is very autobiographical and focuses on a middle-class family that supports a pro-German faction in its struggle against Bolsheviks, Russian Whites, and Ukrainian nationalists. This isn’t a panoramic novel in the style of War and Peace but a worm’s-eye view of the chaos that has been unleashed. Brilliant.

By Mikhail Bulgakov,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The White Guard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev during the chaotic winter of 1918-19, The White Guard, Bulgakov's first full-length novel, tells the story of a Russian-speaking family trapped in circumstances that threaten to destroy them. As in Tolstoy's War and Peace, the narrative centres on the stark contrast between the cosy domesticity of family life on the one hand, and wide-ranging and destructive historical events on the other.

The result is a disturbing, often shocking story, illuminated, however, by shafts of light that testify to people's resilience, humanity and ability to love in even the most adverse circumstances.

Book cover of The Porcupine

Paul Clark Why did I love this book?

This short novel is not set in the Soviet Union but in an unnamed post-Communist country that bears a striking resemblance to Bulgaria. The central character is the deposed Communist dictator, on trial for his crimes. The story is seen through his eyes, and he paints himself not as a villain but a misunderstood hero, a man who devoted his life to building socialism and a better life for his people. I know of no other book that is so good at getting into the head of a former dictator.

By Julian Barnes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Porcupine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling, Booker Prize-winning author of The Sense of an Ending trains his laser-bright prose on the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.

Stoyo Petkanov, the deposed Party leader, is placed on trial for crimes that range from corruption to political murder. Petkanov's guilt—and the righteousness of his opponents—would seem to be self-evident. But, as brilliantly imagined by Barnes, the trial of this cunning and unrepentant dictator illuminates the shadowy frontier between the rusted myths of the Communist past and a capitalist future in which everything is up for grabs.

Book cover of Conquered City

Paul Clark Why did I love this book?

Serge was a supporter of the Bolshevik revolution, though he never lost sight of its flaws. 

This extraordinary novel centres on Petrograd at the height of the civil war, as economic collapse, hunger, the threat from the Whites, and the depredations of the Red Terror crush the city’s spirit and ultimately destroy the revolution, even if the Bolshevik regime it spawned survives.

By Victor Serge, Richard Greeman (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Conquered City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1919–1920: St. Petersburg, city of the czars, has fallen to the Revolution. Camped out in the splendid palaces of the former regime, the city’s new masters seek to cement their control, even as the counterrevolutionary White Army regroups. Conquered City, Victor Serge’s most unrelenting narrative, is structured like a detective story, one in which the new political regime tracks down and eliminates its enemies—the spies, speculators, and traitors hidden among the mass of common people. 

Conquered City is about terror: the Red Terror and the White Terror. But mainly about the Red, the Communists who have dared to pick up…

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Book cover of The Spanish Diplomat's Secret

Nev March Author Of The Spanish Diplomat's Secret

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author History lover Scriptwriter Reader Nature lover

Nev's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

An entertaining mystery on a 1894 trans-Atlantic steamship with an varied array of suspects, and a detective who must solve his case in six days to prevent international conflict.

Retired from the British Indian army, Captain Jim is taking his wife Diana to Liverpool from New York, when their pleasant cruise turns deadly. Just hours after meeting him, a foreign diplomat is brutally murdered onboard their ship. Captain Jim must find the killer before they dock in six days, or there could be war! Aboard the beleaguered luxury liner are a thousand suspects, but no witnesses to the locked-cabin crime.

Fortunately, his wife Diana knows her way around first-class accommodations and Gilded Age society. But something has been troubling her, too, something she won’t tell him. Together, using tricks gleaned from their favorite fictional sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Jim, and Diana must learn why one man’s life came to a murderous end.

By Nev March,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Spanish Diplomat's Secret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Spanish Diplomat's Secret, award-winning author Nev March explores the vivid nineteenth-century world of the transatlantic voyage, one passenger’s secret at a time.

Captain Jim Agnihotri and his wife Lady Diana Framji are embarking to England in the summer of 1894. Jim is hopeful the cruise will help Diana open up to him. Something is troubling her, and Jim is concerned.

On their first evening, Jim meets an intriguing Spaniard, a fellow soldier with whom he finds an instant kinship. But within twenty-four hours, Don Juan Nepomuceno is murdered, his body discovered shortly after he asks rather urgently to…

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Interested in the Soviet Union, the Russian Revolution, and the NKVD?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Soviet Union, the Russian Revolution, and the NKVD.

The Soviet Union Explore 329 books about the Soviet Union
The Russian Revolution Explore 21 books about the Russian Revolution
The NKVD Explore 5 books about the NKVD