Never, ever let any pretentious latte sippin' hipster, hack artiste or stuffy square tell you that Russian literature is only for the egghead set - it ain't. Russian literature is: wild, insightful, fiery.
Exhibit A: 1856, Dostoevsky's Notes From The Underground. The book is a copy of the same scribbled passages laying next to dozens of brilliant writers' keyboards from Piedmont to Poland. The Notes are written in a flowing, cramped hand in a frigid studio apartment located in the epicenter of the toxic waste part of town.
Notes From The Underground recognizes that certain factors are unchangeable despite geography or time: from finding personal truth to creating farces to extinguish love. The book, depending on translation, could have easily been written today in Chicago or Moscow. At 126 pages, Notes From The Underground isn't exactly the 1,475 page War And Peace. For existentialism, Notes is very accessible.
This accessibility is due to Dostoevsky's even hand as a writer. This book condenses much of this brilliance. He excelled at using his pencil like a surgeon's scapel - he cuts into the dark red fabric of the human experience. His accounts are of biting hunger, grim gore spilled in hatred, wild heights of love and lust and above all: the inexplicable sadness that haunts every generation.
The book is divided into two sections, the first being a series of dubious and hilarious essays on the nature of life, love, and work. The second section follows a wandering character known only as X. Each section contains several axioms, such as the naked truth of Self-Destruction: If man has no curse readily available - he will invent one for himself. On Sadism masquerading as Romance: When in love, a woman will tell herself, while tormenting the object of her love, that after torturing and degrading her lover - she will eventually reward him for every wound she inflicts. On Anti-Intellectualism firing off that: "intellectual activity is a disease".
This darkly humorous, subversive book had yer ol' pal the Blob holding it's sides and alternately sighing in deep agreement with the fundamental fact put forward by Dostoevsky - the fact that humans are doomed to be unhappy, self-important mammals.
Wikipedia, Notes From The Underground
Fifty Books, Notes From The Underground
Salon, Notes From The Underground
On-Line Lit, Digitized Underground