Russian short stories are known for being melancholy, often dealing with suffering. However, they can also be funny and absurd. Some common subjects include class distinctions, the plight of the underdog, and a rejection of authoritarianism and bureaucracy.
The Nose | Nikolai Gogol
A barber, Ivan, cuts into a loaf of freshly baked bread only to find a nose inside. He recognizes the nose as belonging to a regular customer of his, Platon. Fearing he will be in trouble, Ivan thinks about how to get rid of the nose. Meanwhile, Platon wakes up in his home and the absurdities continue.
This is the first story in the preview of Big Book of Best Short Stories: Russian II.
An Evening in Spring | Ivan Bunin
A beggar walks around a village, but the people aren’t generous. He ends up in a tavern where he is accosted by a peasant who gives him a hard time.
This is the second story in the preview of Great Short Stories of the Masters.
Symbols and Signs | Vladimir Nabokov
An elderly couple intends to visit their son in a mental institution, but because of a recent suicide attempt, they are not allowed to see him. The husband decides to remove the son from the facility.
This is the third story in the preview of The Big Book of Modern Fantasy.
The Queen of Spades | Alexander Pushkin
Hermann is an engineer in the Russian army. Tomsky tells him a story about his grandmother, a countess, who won a large sum playing cards because she knows a three card secret. The countess is still alive, so Hermann schemes to learn the secret from her.
This is the first story in the preview of Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida.
The Overcoat | Nikolai Gogol
A poor government clerk, Akaky, gets teased at work over his ragged overcoat. He tries to get it repaired, but the tailor declares it a lost cause. Akaky lives on a strict budget to save up for a new one.
This one is longish, but is worth the time. One of my favorites.
The beginning of “The Overcoat” can be read in the Amazon preview of The Overcoat and Other Stories.
“Silence” by Leonid Andreyev
Father Ignatius and his wife try to find out what is wrong with Vera, their daughter, who stays in bed. She has recently returned from St. Petersburg, a trip her father didn’t approve of. Her condition has a powerful effect on everyone.
“My First Goose” by Isaac Babel
During the Russian civil war in 1918, the narrator, a Jewish man, is assigned as the Propaganda Officer to a Cossack Division of the Red Army. He is weak, educated, and wears glasses. He is treated with little respect.
The Bridge | Nicolai Chukovski
Kostya is seventeen, awkward and shy, and his family has little confidence in him. He is going to Siberia to work for his uncle, but his grandmother and aunt don’t think he is rugged enough for the change. He takes his bicycle out for his last ride before leaving.
The Christmas Tree and the Wedding | Fyodor Dostoevsky
At a New Year’s children’s ball, a guest tries to get into the good graces of the family of a young girl who is said to have a large dowry. He fawns over her and tries to oust her young lower-class playmate.
The Crocodile | Fyodor Dostoevsky
Ivan goes with his wife and his friend, Semyon, to an exhibition to see a crocodile. It swallows Ivan, but he remains alive inside it. There is a discussion about getting him out.
The Peasant Marey | Fyodor Dostoevsky
The narrator, a noble, remembers an incident from his childhood. While walking in the woods, he heard someone shouting a warning about a wolf. He ran off in a panic, until he reached a peasant man, Marey.
The Signal | Vsevolod Garshin
Semyon works as a track-walker, diligently attending to his section of railroad. A neighbor, Vasily, complains about his work and low pay. Vasily’s temper leads to an emergency and Semyon must act decisively.
The Carriage (The Calash) | Nikolai Gogol
A town is very dull until a cavalry regiment is stationed there. The brigadier general throws a dinner party, inviting some prominent officers and local landowners. Among the guests is Pythagor Chertokutsky, an aristocrat and former officer who retired after an unfortunate social incident.
The Diary (Memoirs) of a Madman | Nikolai Gogol
A middle-aged government clerk keeps a diary that includes the times he is marginalized by others, with his fanciful explanations for what’s really happening. His perceptions become increasingly outrageous as he loses grip on reality.
Her Lover | Maxim Gorky
A student lives across from a woman with a questionable reputation. She greets him but he tries to avoid her. One day she asks him for a favor—she wants him to write a letter for her.
One Autumn Night | Maxim Gorky
A man arrives in town without money or any acquaintances in the area. He goes looking for food, and comes across a woman in a similar situation.
In the Steppes | Maxim Gorky
Three drifters are walking across the steppe looking for a shepherd to beg some bread. They walk on, their hunger getting worse. Eventually, they decide they have to stop and make a fire.
Symphony No. 2 | Daniil Kharms
A fickle narrator begins telling the story of Anton Mikhailovich but doesn’t get far.
Blue Notebook No. 2 | Daniil Kharms
The narrator talks about a redheaded man who is missing some important things.
The Old Bell-Ringer | Vladimir Korolenko
Mikheyich is the bell-ringer in the church in a small community. He has outlived his peers and many younger family members. As he prepares to ring the bell once more, he thinks about the occasion and his life.
The Outrage: A True Story | Aleksandr Ivanovich Kuprin
Nineteen Jewish lawyers are gathered on a hot day to find out who’s behind the last pogrom against the Jews. The doorman intrudes, saying a group of seven men has arrived who wish to be seen. The lawyers agree. The men are from an association of thieves, which confuses the group.
Taman | Mikhail Lermontov
The narrator relates his narrow escape in Taman. As an officer traveling on government business he is given lodging at a private residence. It is an eerie place with no master, a blind servant boy, and a daughter who has run away. At night a shadow flickering across his room gets his attention.
That in Aleppo Once… | Vladimir Nabokov
The narrator writes a letter to his Russian friend working as a novelist in America. He chronicles his failed marriage, including a separation that occurs during a train trip and his jealousy.
The Shot | Alexander Pushkin
A regiment of Russian soldiers often goes to the home of Silvio, a mysterious man, to play cards and drink. A young soldier insults Silvio, but he lets it pass; he doesn’t challenge him to a duel as honor demands. This lowers his esteem in the eyes of his guests.
The Stationmaster | Alexander Pushkin
The stationmaster is a member of the fourteenth rank – the lowest rank among government workers. He has a beautiful daughter, Dunia. The narrator meets the stationmaster during his travels. When the narrator returns years later he asks about the stationmaster and his daughter.
How a Muzhik Fed Two Officials | Mikhail Saltykov
Two life-long white collar government workers find themselves transported to a deserted island. Their skills of keeping records and writing reports prove useless in their new environment. They realize that if they could just find a peasant he could look after everything.
Night | Tatyana Tolstaya
Mamochka is eighty-years-old and looks after her middle-aged retarded son, Alexie. She gets him through his daily routine, sets up his work space, and tries to guide his interactions with others.
Alyosha the Pot | Leo Tolstoy
From childhood to the age of nineteen, Alyosha works hard on his family’s farm. Then, he’s sent to town to work for a merchant. He is overworked and mistreated his whole life, but he bears it well.
This is the third story in the preview of Classic Short Stories.
The Death of Ivan Ilych | Leo Tolstoy
Ivan Ilyich lives simply, focusing on making advancement at work as he’s not eager to be around his family. One day while hanging curtains, he falls and hurts his side. When he gets it checked out, the doctor has bad news.
This story is a novella.
Three Questions | Leo Tolstoy
A king wants the answers to three very important questions. He finds a wise hermit who helps him discover the answers.
Bezhin Meadow | Ivan Turgenev
The narrator, having finished grouse shooting for the day, heads home but gets lost. He ends up in Bezhin Meadow with five boys who are watching some horses. He rests while the boys tell superstitious stories.
The District Doctor | Ivan Turgenev
A doctor makes an urgent house call where a beautiful young woman is in a bad condition. He tries to reassure her family even though a recovery is unlikely.
“Khor and Kalinych” by Ivan Turgenev
While out hunting, the narrator meets Polutykin, a small Kaluga landowner and hunter. Polutykin has some flaws, but these are all overlooked due to his love for hunting. They stop in on Khor, one of Polutykin’s peasants. Khor had made an arrangement with Polutykin’s father, and lives apart from the other peasants.
“Khor and Kalinych” can be read in the preview of Sketches from a Hunter’s Album.
Yermolai and the Miller’s Wife | Ivan Turgenev
The narrator and Yermolai go out hunting. They seek shelter at a miller’s home. Yermolai seems to know the miller’s wife.
I hope you found a great Russian story to read. I will add more as I find them.