The Sochi Winter Olympics are upon us. There are some of us who are refusing to watch and others who can’t get enough. But either way you’re going to need some book recommendations to fill the time–because if you watch the Olympics when they end they leave a hole in your life, and if you don’t then there is nothing else on TV.

Flavorpill has already recommended some Russian novels to the world. But here are some more recommendations from the staff:


The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey (Crown, 2005). This book tells the story of the US/Russia hockey showdown at the 1980 Olympics, which NBC is contractually obligated to remind us of every Winter Olympics. (Emily)

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schaap (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007). OK, track and field isn’t a Winter Olympics event but this book is about Jesse Owens at the controversial 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Sochi wasn’t exactly a popular host city either. We certainly hope the LGBT athletes at Sochi can “triumph” just as Owens did. At least one already is! (Emily)

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen (Crown, 2013). Our resident foodie, Gordon, recommends this book on Russian food that is part cookbook and part memoir. (Gordon)

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (Random House, 2011). Massie has published several biographies of Russians. The one on Catherine is his latest. I read it a year or so ago and found it very interesting as Americans don’t often hear much about Russia before the Revolution. (Emily, but Jen also recommends.)


City of Thieves by David Benioff (Viking, 2005). You may recognize the name “David Benioff” from writing and producing HBO’s Game of Thrones, but he wrote some novels before that. This one is set during the Nazi siege of Leningrad, and tells of two young men who must steal eggs or die. (Emily)

The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne (Other Press, 2013) Most people know John Boyne as the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but his adult books are awesome, and his historical fiction in particular is amazingly researched and vividly written. He tells this story of the horrors of the Russian Revolution through the memories of a former palace guard, now an émigré living in England with his beloved wife. (Jen)

Enchantments: A novel of Rasputin’s daughter and the Romanovs by Kathryn Harrison (Random House, 2012) I know, I know, more Russian Revolution, but this is like the Princes in the Tower for me, I just want to read EVERYONE’S interpretations. Plus, Harrison has done something interesting here by telling the story through the eyes of Rasputin’s eldest daughter, Masha. Perhaps because of the father with whom she grew up, Masha has a gift for fantastical stories and the events of the Russian Revolution come to life through the imaginings and explanations of one child telling stories to another. (Jen)

A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer DuBois (The Dial Press, 2012) This is an absolutely gorgeous and moving debut novel set in Putin’s Russia, featuring Aleksandr, apolitical dissident chess champion, and Irina, an American dying of Huntington’s Disease, who are united by letter Irina’s father wrote to Aleksandr years earlier. (Jen)



Young Adult
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (Henry Holt BFYR, 2012). The first book in Bardugo’s “Grisha” fantasy series introduces readers to “Ravka” a Russia-like country plagued by “the Shadow Fold,” a strange, dark realm threatening to engulf their nation. (Emily)

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Philomel, 2011). The main character of this book, Lina, is a Lithuanian girl living under Soviet occupation. She and her family are sent to Siberia for extermination. Forgive me for including a non-Russian on the list, but this is an dark, yet important topic in Russia’s history. I’d love to find something like it! (Emily)

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy by Elizabeth Keim (Soho Teen, 2013). Marina is a ballet dancer in Soviet Russia. Her mother, Sveta, was a prima ballerina and a great star but when she becomes obsessed with a dangerous state secret, Sveta puts the family in great danger. (Emily)

Sekret by Lindsay Smith (Roaring Brook Press, 2014). I haven’t read this one yet, but I’ve heard great things. Yulia can read minds and is captured by the KGB and forced to become a psychic spy. This one comes out April 1st. I am so there! (Emily)


What are your favorite books about the Olympics?