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PHOTOS JULIANA TAN

My Russian Passion

Bookstore manager Renee Ting is fascinated with Russian writing and tells Helmi Yusof why.
Nov 5, 2016 5:50 AM

In his 1975 comedy film Love & Death parodying Russian literature, Woody Allen plays the archetypal tragic hero, proclaiming: "I'm wracked with guilt, consumed with remorse and stricken with suffering for the human race. Not only that, I'm developing a herpe on my lip that's really killing me."

Russian literature is synonymous with suffering and death. Only the most devoted of readers dare venture into the bleak landscapes of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev and Chekhov. People are always dying of illnesses, or someone always kills someone else.

But in the warmly-lit and cosy interiors of BooksActually, Singapore's favourite indie bookstore, its manager Renee Ting has been spending her days reading nothing but heavy novels with titles like Crime & Punishment, Cancer Ward and Poor Folk. 

"I call 2016 my year of Russian literature. Initially, I'd planned to read 16 titles for the year. But I finished them in four months. So I've picked a dozen more to go," says Ms Ting, who only last month married Kenny Leck, the bookstore founder. (Mr Leck proposed to her in August with a Heman Chong painting of the book cover of Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. She, of course, said yes.)

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Ms Ting's passion for the genre means the bookstore is well-stocked with Russian titles, with her acting as their most passionate endorser: "We've run out of Zamyatin's We because I keep recommending it. But we still have stock for Bulgakov's A Dog Heart - whenever I tell customers it's about a dog who becomes a man, they say: Sold!"

She adds, "The thing about Russian writers is that they explore the fundamental questions of human existence - why are we here, where are we going. They're obsessed with birth, death, love, betrayal, regret.

"And in this age of fast, disposable information, where an individual's little tantrums become worthy of a Facebook discussion, reading these Russian novels make you stop and really think again about what it means to be human."

Curious about Russian novels but don't know where to start? BooksActually's new gift-box service picks out a Russian title for you every month and ships it to your home. Visit box.booksactually.com or call +65 6222-9195