Is Fyodor Dostoevsky's masterpiece Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov? The debate rages in literary circles, but if you want authenticity and a masterclass in Russian literature, perhaps The House of the Dead should climb to the top of your literary to-do list.
This semi-autobiographical account of Dostoevky's four years in a remote Siberian prison is superb because it is real, from the people he is surrounded by to the depressing living conditions. The cabbage soup with cockroaches, the agony of sleeping on wooden plank beds, and the reality of being surrounded by convicts that are just as hideous as the decrepit state of the prison camps.
The first page sets the morose tone of the next 300 pages. But it is the final page that strikes the message of redemption, a gradual reawakening that Aleksandr Petrovich earns after serving ten years in prison for murdering his wife.
It goes from "... here was the house of the living dead, a life like none other upon earth ... " to " ... resurrection from the dead ... what a glorious moment!"
Although Dostoevsky's experience occurred decades before the rise of the Soviet Union, you could say that it offered a sneak preview of what was to come with the forced-labor camps, known as the Gulag. And if a novel is revered by the great Leo Tolstoy, then you owe it to yourself to give it a read....