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‘The Legend of Yusuf’ and ‘Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes’. A guide to books about Tatarstan

Often during trips there is not enough time to learn even a small portion of all the information about a particular place, or more so, visit all the main sites. Luckily, this situation can be turned around with the help of books - they can help you embark on an exciting adventure again from the comfort of your own home. We have compiled a list of tour guide books, novels and collections of works that will tell you fascinating stories of Tatarstan and its inhabitants during both periods of decline and prosperity.

Churiki-mokuriki of the island Sviyazhsk by Marina Razbezhkina and Rashit Safiullin 

This book is the work of film director Marina Razbezhkina and artist Rashit Safiullin. Together they gathered valuable material about Sviyazhsk between the 1970s and the 1990s. The book contains recordings of people's speeches, paintings, drawings, photographs and a dictionary that describes the phenomena of local life. According to Marina Razbezhkina, “Churiki-mokuriki are the name she gave to fragments of speech and life, the details of the mosaic from which life is ultimately made up; a kind of Sviyazhsk Facebook”. The book by two talented authors will reveal a fascinating and crowded Sviyazhsk, where each inhabitant has an unusual story to share.

Where the rose hip blooms by Olga Kuzmicheva-Drobyshevskaya 

The book which overlaps genres includes studies by historians, interviews with local residents, author essays and fiction that will allow you to see a full portrait of Naberezhnye Chelny in the early 1970s. From it you will learn in what conditions the builders of the famous KAMAZ lived, what the locals had to endure during the wars and repressions and the secret stories the city contains in itself.


Brezhnev City by Shamil Idiatullin

In this novel, the author describes life in the early 1980s in Naberezhnye Chelny (at that time called Brezhnev) during the time of USSR Chairman Andropov, perestroika and the next round of the Cold War. The main characters of the book are a KAMAZ employee, a young teacher and an eighth grader, each of whom is experiencing personal problems and a turning point in the country's development in its own way. Based on the words of Shamil Idiatullin, the book was written as a tribute to childhood, the city and its local residents.

Zuleikha Opens Her Eyes by Guzel Yakhina

This novel is centred around the fate of a peasant woman called Zuleikha from a Tatar village and other migrants, who were sent to hard labour camps in Siberia in 1930. The author of the book was born in Kazan and was inspired by the fate of those dispossessed after the revolution due to the stories of her grandmother, who also survived Siberian exile. The book is based on stories of people who were in exile between 1930 and 1946. The filming of the on-screen adaptation of the book commenced in October 2018 in Kazan, where the main role is played by Chulpan Khamatova - renowned People’s Artist of Russia originally from Kazan.

Steep Route by Evgenia Ginzburg

Another book about the difficult life of people who survived prisons, camps and exiles. In this autobiography novel, the Kazan journalist talks about 18 terrible times of imprisonment and life of a generation of Kazan’s creative intellectuals in the 1930s. Due to exile, Evgenia Ginzburg and her husband had to leave their young son in Kazan - the future writer Vasily Aksenov, who lived in a communal house with relatives. A few years ago, the building where he lived was reconstructed and it has now become the house-museum of the Aksenov family, which is open to the public.

The Diaries by Gabdulla Tukay

Gabdulla Tukay - a national poet of the Republic of Tatarstan left behind a rich literary heritage. ‘Mother Tongue’, ‘Shurale’ and ‘About Freedom’ are the best places to start if you want to get to know the poet’s work. However, to really get to know him as a person we suggest doing so from his own ‘Diaries’. The little-known document contains memories, photographs and diary entries of the author, as well as his personal thoughts about life’s tests and anxieties of the last years of his life, which reveal the true personality of a talented writer.

The Eighth Day Eve by Olga Ilyina

The writer and great-granddaughter of poet Yevgeny Boratynsky was born in Kazan, but in 1922 was forced to emigrate to Harbin, and later to San Francisco, where she released this autobiographical novel. In the book, she explores the turning points of the beginning of the 20th century: the First World War, the 1917 Revolution, and the Civil War. This is the first work published in Russia in Russian at the request of the poetess herself, and it has been transferred to the Boratynsky Museum in Kazan, where you can see her watercolour portrait and learn more about the family of talented writers.

Mythology of the Kazan Tatars by Kayum Nasyri and Yakov Koblov

Kazan can surprise not only with its sights and hospitality, but also with its abundant and peculiar folklore and mythology. After extensive studies, the authors describe their findings of all mythological creatures, as well as beliefs and signs that have been distributed among the Tatars over the centuries. The book will tell you about Shurale and other mysterious characters, and reveal the meanings of dreams and popular superstitions.

Secrets of the Volga Bulgar by Yuri Suprunenko

It was in the Bulgars that the Kazan Khanate was born and where for the first time in Russia, a conversion to Islam happened voluntarily. Hence why the modern Bolgar is considered the 'Northern Mecca' annually attracting pilgrims from all over the world. The book will help you learn about pre-Bulgarian history, the origins of Islam, the secret and peculiar places of the city and ancient mosques.

The Legend of Yusuf by Kul Gali

“The Legend of Yusuf” or “Kissa and Yusuf” can be dated way back to 1223. Its author was Kul Gali - the famous poet and founder of Bulgar-Tatar literature. Kul Gali based his poem on the Biblical-Quranic story of Yusuf (Joseph), one of the twelve sons of a nation's ruler, who survived the brutal betrayal of his brothers, but managed to maintain his generosity and forgiveness. A wonderful piece of reading that will plunge you into the life of the ancient Bulgar and remember the eternal values: goodness, tolerance, morality, love and friendship.

Chistopol Pages 

During the Great Patriotic War, many writers were evacuated to Chistopol. During this time, a large number of poems, short stories, novels and diaries had been accumulated that describe the difficult times and life of Soviet writers. In the book you will find memoirs of B. Pasternak, N. Aseev, M. Isakovsky, L. Leonov, K. Trenyov, K. Fedin, S. Shchipachev and others.


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