Literature is one of Russia’s greatest exports. For centuries Russian authors have contemplated, opined and discussed the state of Russian society and culture. Despite the best efforts of propaganda and censorship, literature still gives us fascinating insight into Russia throughout history, and arguably, right through to the present day. To read Russian literature is not only to marvel at literary craft and storytelling, but to better understand the Russia that we see before us now. From Pushkin to Pasternak, Tolstoy to Turgenev, Gogol to Gorky, there are countless writers to explore. Russian authors may have arrived at the proverbial dinner table of civilised literature a little later than those of other European powers, but they have provided us with a veritable feast of works to consume.
It may sound odd, but I have never felt more relaxed than when surrounded by naked Russian men. Men who ferociously beat each other with silver birch leaves and branches. Men who let out low grunts of either pain or pleasure as a twig thwacks across their buttock. Men who suffer in sweaty silence as a searing wave of heat emanates from the hot stones in the corner. This is, of course, the Russian banya. A place where worries dissipate, friendships are cemented, and a man’s genitals are afforded more freedom of movement than an EU national with an inter-rail ticket.