World Cup Sparks Skyrocketing Sales of Classic Russian Literature

Sales of classic Russian novels are going through the roof, according to Moscow's biggest bookstore—and it's all thanks to the World Cup.

Russian businesses across the 11 host cities have observed a boost thanks to the two million visitors the tournament has brought to Russia, according to the government. Lining streets with massive parties and drinking cities nearly dry of beer has become the norm for many fans, but some are apparently spending their cash on more intellectual keepsakes from the host country.

Works by Russia's most celebrated poet Alexander Pushkin, sage novelists Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy and other legendary writers in the Russian language are all selling fast, according to the Moscow House of Books. The tournament's bestselling author so far appears to be a proud son of Ukraine's capital Kiev, who wrote predominantly in Russian.

Opera singers perform in one of the last dress rehearsals for Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's opera 'Eugene Onegin' in Glyndebourne opera house on May 13, 21014 in Lewes, England. Alexander Pushkin's book has been one of the top sellers in Russia during the World Cup. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

"The most sought-after writer among the tourists appears to be Mikhail Bulgakov," the director of the bookseller Nadezhda Mikhailova told state news agency RIA Novosti. "In June, sales of his books published in foreign languages grew by 30 percent compared with previous months. The most popular of all of his works is the novel The Master and Margarita, especially the English-language edition. The book is also sought-after in Spanish, German and Italian."

The Soviet-era masterpiece is as renowned for its plot and storytelling as it is for the anti-establishment history of its publication and the tragedy of its author. Bulgakov finished writing his mystical piece of satire, which centers on the appearance of the devil in Joseph Stalin's atheist Soviet Union, in 1940, shortly before his death. Due to Moscow's censorship, which Bulgakov suffered greatly from, the book remained officially unpublished until 1966, after Stalin's passing. Since then the novel has evolved from an underground masterpiece to a widely commended literary classic.

Sales of Pushkin's works in foreign languages have doubled over the course of the World Cup, according to Mikhailova. The Romantic poet's most popular books with foreign buyers is his novel Eugene Onegin, written entirely in verse. Other works experiencing a boom in popularity are the lengthy 19th century classics Anna Karenina and The Idiot, by Tolstoy and Dostoevsky respectively, and Boris Pasternak's controversial 20th century romance, Doctor Zhivago .

Much like The Master and Margarita, Pasternak's book did not receive permission for publication by Soviet authorities, but thanks to smugglers in Italy and the CIA, the book made it to the printing presses in Europe. Russian copies then covertly arrived back to Pasternak's homeland.

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The purpose of the exercise, according to declassified CIA files was to make "Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country." The book's release abroad made it an instant hit and won the 1958 Nobel prize for literature in an embarrassing development for the Kremlin, which had still not permitted its publication.