The best travel books on Russia

The Books I Picked & Why

Sakhalin Island

By Anton Chekhov

Sakhalin Island

Why this book?

The writer’s account of a journey across Siberia and into the Russian Far East to investigate prison conditions on an island in the Sea of Okhotsk north of Japan. A book of investigative journalism and a finely worked travel narrative conjuring spongy mud, ‘smoky, dreamy mountains’ and ‘lithe’ rivers while the author dreams of turbot, asparagus and kasha.


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On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers

By Kate Marsden

On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers

Why this book?

Also published in 1893, the same year as Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island. Marsden, a London-born nurse, found her vocation tending to sick and abandoned Russians. The book offers a remarkable portrait of the remotest reaches of the Russian Empire, as well as the author’s indomitable spirit.


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Among the Russians

By Colin Thubron

Among the Russians

Why this book?

Ten thousand miles in a Morris Minor. The reader might wonder, after closing this book, what has changed in Russia in forty years, despite regime collapse. An excellent companion on the road – though I found it hard to choose between this and Thubron’s later book on Russia, In Siberia.


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Black Earth City

By Charlotte Hobson

Black Earth City

Why this book?

A wonderful account of a young Englishwoman’s year as a student in Voronezh in the potato belt. Crucially, that year was 1991, and Hobson saw it all. At once lyrical, funny and grim, this is a book that stands the test of time despite it all.


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Journey into Russia

By Laurens van der Post

Journey into Russia

Why this book?

The author was an old fraud but this is a delightful period piece which reveals a good deal, sometimes inadvertently, about the lives of Russians in the benighted Soviet sixties.


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