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9 Novels by Noble Prize Winner Ivan Bunin

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Ivan Bunin

Ivan Bunin

You should not have idle hands, you should always be working. All your life.

— Ivan Bunin

Ivan Bunin was a Russian writer and poet, who was known for his strict artistry. His writing pattern is often termed as “Bunin brocade”, which is said to be the richest texture of writing poems and stories.

Amazing Facts about Ivan Bunin

  • He was the first Russian to receive the Noble Prize for literature.
  • He was considered to be the true heir to the Russian literary tradition which was set by Tolstoy and Chekhov.
  • He was very proud of his ancestry as it included famous poets of Russian literature - Anna Bunina and Vasily Zhukovsky.
  • His family was bankrupted due to the extensive gambling habits of the family head. Thus, he was expelled from school and could never complete his studies.
  • He was a great friend with Maxim Gorky and greatly influenced by Leo Tolstoy such that he started copying his lifestyle as well.
  • He was awarded Pushkin Prize for his poems Falling Leaves and 1903-1906 as well as for the translation of Lord Byron’s poem named Cain.
  • He was considered to be the successor of Nikolai Gogol, who was the first to discover the method to fuse poetry and prose. Vladimir Nabokov greatly admired him for the same.
  • He was the first Russian writer to have his work published in the USSR while living in exile.
  • He was an anti-Nazi and also risked his life to save the life of Jews.
  • He died on November 8, 1953, due to cardiac asthma, heart failure, and pulmonary sclerosis.

Famous Novels

Ivan Bunin receives the Noble Prize by the Swedish King

Ivan Bunin receives the Noble Prize by the Swedish King

1. The Life of Arseniev

  • The Life of Arseniev is a semi-autobiography and considered to be a prominent work based on emigration.
  • It is divided into several parts and took a couple of years to reach the final piece with lots of cuts and additions being done including the changes of real names. Consequently, a real masterpiece does take time and a lot of efforts to make it long-lasting and that’s the reason for Bunin receiving a Noble Prize.
  • The novel was convincing and engaging that readers actually urged Bunin to release the second part as well, but that could never happen.
  • The main aim to write this novel was Bunin’s fear of oblivion. According to him, a man is always fighting with death throughout his life, even when the death takes away his name, he wishes it to be written either on a cross or on a gravestone.
Cursed Days Painting by Oleg Semenov

Cursed Days Painting by Oleg Semenov

2. Cursed Days

  • In 1920, when Bunin, permanently, left his country. He wrote in Cursed Days about the worse situations that emerged when Bolshevik came into power.
  • The book is filled with gripping immediacy and graphic illustration civil war and revolution.
  • Unlike early similar works, Cursed Days perfectly describe the unspoken truth, full of pain and suffering when the country is overpowered by thugs.
  • One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “There’s a huge crowd of people near the Il’inka Street, who are taking their money out. Most of them are ready to live on the streets. The paper reports Germans have taken control over Kharkov. The newspaper seller advised me, ‘Better the Devil than Lenin’”.
The Village

The Village

3. The Village

  • The Village was severely criticized when published, but was highly appreciated by Maxim Gorky and was finally termed as a masterpiece.
  • The story is set in the 1905 revolution and is about two peasant brothers. While one is a heavy drinker, another is more gentle and sympathizing by nature.
  • The title describes the country Russia as a single village and discusses its rural life and its ill-faith.
  • The story makes you cry, it throws light on the adversities that the Russian peasants had to face, living life in the dark, no beam of sunlight and degradation of their lives with each passing day, where negativity became the only positive thing.
Dry Valley's Film adaptation

Dry Valley's Film adaptation

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4. Dry Valley

  • Released after The Village, Dry Valley is highly considered to be the book’s second part that continuous its description of the bleak lifestyle of Russia, also including the rural community.
  • The book was initially thought to be fictional, but later it was discovered that most of its work is autobiographical, indeed.
  • The Sukhodol estate, mentioned in the book, is taken from the real-life country house of Bunin’s uncle. The other similarities include Bunin’s aunt as Aunt Tonya and Bunin’s grandfather in the character of Pyotr Kyrillovich.
  • The book was instantly considered a masterpiece that was perfect in its relation to the dreadful situations of then Russia.
 The Gentleman from San Francisco

The Gentleman from San Francisco

5. The Gentleman from San Francisco

  • The Gentleman from San Francisco is Bunin’s best-known classic and based on a true incident of a shocking death of an American citizen on the Capri island.
  • Bunin took no more than four days to complete the story, most of which is purely fictional.
  • The story is about a 48-year-old American millionaire from San Francisco, who is set on a world tour along with his wife and daughter. Due to the bad winter in Naples, they decide to go to Capri and the man suddenly dies.
  • Bunin, in no manner, disgraces the gentleman, rather shows his emotional connection to the situation. The book was highly praised by the media.
Sunstroke's Film adaptation

Sunstroke's Film adaptation

6. Sunstroke

  • Sunstroke is a collection of 25 stories that Bunin wrote after leaving Russia and living in France as an exile after the Russia Revolution of 1917.
  • The stories, though short, completely describes the emotional situations of various families and their longing to see each other as well as their losses both emotionally and physically.
  • One story discusses the brief yet intense love affair of an army officer with a married woman.
  • One of my favorites is Cold Fall, where a woman loses her lovers in the wars and is swayed away by emotional disturbance. Another is about a lustful old man who is chased by an imaginary avenger.
Dark Avenues

Dark Avenues

7. Dark Avenues

  • Dark Avenues is a collection of short stories and is entirely dedicated to the concept of love, often considered a Bunin’s masterpiece.
  • The stories are dark, erotic, intense and enriched with sensory and physical experiences that uniquely portrays the definition of love.
  • There are around 30 stories with distinguished stories inspired by real-life events. Some of my favorites are Caucasus, Ballad, Styopam, and Heinrich.
  • Published by Bunin, Dark Avenues is nothing less than a masterpiece that covers various aspects of love life and is highly relatable to every person that reads the stories.
Anton Chekhov and Ivan Bunin

Anton Chekhov and Ivan Bunin

8. About Chekhov

  • About Chekhov is a memoir which is certainly devoted to Anton Chekov and his friends. It was published posthumously and was finished by Bunin’s wife Vera Muromtseva after his death.
  • Chekhov was Bunin’s favorite writer and his death came as a heart-killing shock for him. It was Maxim Gorky who encouraged him to write something about Chekhov and attend his memorial in Moscow.
  • Chekhov’s sister Maria Chekhova considered Bunin to be the right person for writing his brother’s biography and wrote a letter to him to create his brother’s life in prose.
  • During his last years, Bunin had sleepless nights and recalled his conversations with Chekhov, scribbling words on paper and cigarette boxes.
Ivan Bunin and Varvara Pashchenko. Antonov Apples is about Varvara Pashchenko.

Ivan Bunin and Varvara Pashchenko. Antonov Apples is about Varvara Pashchenko.

9. Antonov Apples

  • Bunin describes his passionate love for Varvara Pashchenko through Antonov Apples, also talking about his endless liking for the autumn season.
  • The main character, Arseny Semyonovich, is inspired by Bunin’s relative named A.I. Pusheshnikov.
  • The way which Bunin has fitted together his passionate love, liking for autumn and traditions and lifestyle of rural life into his prose is completely worth tracing. His metaphorical usage to describe the rural conditions is also remarkable.
  • The novella received mixed reviews, yet counted as one of his best early works. After reading it, Maxim Gorky said to Bunin, “Thanks for the ‘Apples’. Those were exceptional.”

Taking into account the fact Ivan Bunin was the first Russian to be awarded the Noble Prize for literature along with several other awards, his novels speak volume of his achievements. While I mentioned only nine of his best novels, I can, affirmatively, say each of his work is equally engaging as well as prize-winning.

© 2019 Prachi Sharma

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