Do you want to travel the world exploring exotic cultures, languages, art and nature? Why, yes, of course you do! So rather than spending months scouring Expedia and spending thousands of your hard-earned dollars, simply stop by Retreat by Random House every second Wednesday. We’ll help you experience alluring locales like Korea, South Africa, Israel and many more.
First up, Russia!
Greet Your Guests
Dobroye utro! (dohb-ruh-ee oo-truh) Good morning!
Dobryj dyen’! (dohb-rihy dyen’) Good afternoon!
Dobryj vyechyer! (dohb–rihy vye-cheer) Good evening!
Books Books Books
As Ainsley pointed out, when one thinks of Russia, vodka and pickles instantly come to mind! These items may make a welcome appearance at your Russian-themed book club but first, there are two rules you must follow: First, you must prepare some delicious Russian food to compensate for any vodka that might be consumed, and second, the golden rule of all book clubs, you must read the book!
The books we’ve chosen will transport you to the mysterious and massive country that is Russia. With such variety in Russian subject matter, you’re sure to find something to suit even your pickiest member. To help you decide, below is a short description of Eva Stachniak’s The Winter Palace, Haley Tanner’s Vaclav and Lena, and Linda Holeman’s The Lost Souls of Angelkov.
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
Immerse yourself in Russian royalty. Eva’s book is full of treachery, betrayal, opulence and perilous loyalties in the Russian court. Set in the time of Catherine the Great, if you love historical fiction, it doesn’t get better than this.
Read an excerpt here.
Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner
For less rivalry but no less passion, Vaclav and Lena is a timeless love story set in New York’s Russian émigré community. When star-crossed lovers, Vaclav and Lena, meet as children from radically different worlds, they find a connection in the world of magic. Vaclav, a budding magician, is convinced that Lena will be his assistant forever…but after a horrific discovery the two are ripped apart, only to meet again many years later.
Read an excerpt here.
The Lost Souls of Angelkov by Linda Holeman
Set in the turbulent years of 1860s Russia, The Lost Souls of Angelkov has been called “as enchanting as a Tchaikovsky ballet.” It is the story of Antonina, the wife of a wealthy Russian landowner, whose life is turned upside down when her son is kidnapped and her husband falls ill and dies. Antonina is forced to find strengths she never knew she possessed and face murderous betrayals in order to find her son.
What to Serve
Russian cuisine is known for its hearty, peasant-style dishes. Stews with cabbage, potatoes, carrots and meat will warm you up on a cold Russian night like nothing else (except maybe a shot of vodka). Since this type of food is not handy to serve at a book club, we’d like to suggest some appetizers which incorporate the style and flavours of the region but are quick and easy to make and eat.
Russian blini or mini pancakes have recently become the appetizer du jour. Serve these easy-to-make-ahead bites sweet with fruit jam or savoury with sour cream and chives.
Pork sausage is also a Russian favourite and can easily be cut into bite-sized pieces and served on skewers. Mustard and horseradish are must-have condiments at any Russian gathering.
A mayonnaise-based potato salad is also sure to be a hit as are pelmeni which are a member of the dumpling family. If you’re feeling inspired, here’s a great recipe for pelmeni; if you’re short on time or feeling a little less adventurous, feel free to purchase dumplings stuffed with any type of minced meat from your local grocery store; it’s all in the spirit of fun!
What to Drink
To wash down your delicious nibbles, while still being able to discuss the books, we’d suggest something less potent than vodka. Tea plays a big part in Russian culture; it is drunk black without sugar or milk. Coffee has also gained popularity recently and it too is drunk dark and strong.
Not to be outdone, vodka is of course one of the most popular spirits in Russia and if you are feeling particularly brave, purchase a few varieties and have your fellow book club members give each a little taste. We’re not denying vodka’s ability to bolster worthy book club banter, but always know your limit.
Just For Fun
Depending on what time of year you are hosting your Russian-themed book club, if the weather outside is cooler; you can make faux fur hats to put your guests in the Russian spirit. These hats, called Ushanka or trapper hats, make a great souvenir of the evening.
Continue Your Russian Education
The Russian Affair by Michael Wallner
The Tiger by John Vaillant
The Culprits by Robert Hough
Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison
The House of Special Purpose by John Boyne
Everything Flows by Vasily Grossman
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Next stop, Mexico!