The Light and the Dark – Mikhail Shishkin

The Light and the Dark was one of those books that I read just in time; it helped me and explained myself to me better than anyone else. Of course, every reader establishes a highly personal relationship with the novel they read. In the book, the reader sometimes hears what they want to hear, and sometimes they encounter what they didn’t even know they wanted to hear.


The Light and the Dark allowed me to take a more transparent, closer look at the emotional turmoil I am currently in. On each page, another knot was untied inside me; I got butterflies in my stomach in some sentences and paragraphs. It didn’t take me long to believe that this book was written so that I could better understand what I’m going through right now. As you can see, this was a novel that captured me very profoundly.

The Light and the Dark, after all, is a novel of letters. Sasha and Volodia share their whole world with each other in letters they write to each other. But after a while, we realize that they are slowly starting to write to themselves rather than each other. Volodia, especially at war, writes in order to survive, to remember himself, and to exist. One can feel the cruelty and meaninglessness of the war in Vovka’s letters. To read through the eyes of a soldier, with all its details, the desperation experienced in China and that the only wish of this soldier is to be with his lover, frankly, offers an entirely different perspective.

The Light and the Dark - Mikhail Shishkin

Sasha’s episodes made me think a lot about family, losses, relationships, marriages and a woman’s life. When I thought about the novel after it was finished, I was amazed at how Shishkin could write about a woman so realistically.

As a person who has had long-distance relationships for a long time, I know the value of letters and writing very well. Although writing is very good for the soul, it cannot replace touching or lying on your lover’s knees, and after a while, one finds himself struggling between what he wrote. On the other hand, Shishkin is a great novelist who struggles the better. And he grabs the readers who have experienced similar things.

I had to read The Light and the Dark for a long time because of my mood. When I finished the last hundred pages in one sitting, I realized that I immediately missed the book and wanted to reread it. It was like my heart was broken and, at the same time, came together with happiness. Is there really a description of this? I do not know. Sasha and Volodia are separated not only in the different places they are in but also in time because they seem to live in entirely different times. Don’t those who live in different places or ages spend their time differently?

While reading The Light and the Dark, I realized that I often wanted to take a break to talk to my mother, tell her everything, and form sentences that would change the mother-daughter relationship between us forever. Shishkin described the loss of Sasha’s parents so well that now I want to tell my mother everything in my life, from my biggest secrets to my biggest embarrassments so that I won’t regret it in the future. I hope I can find that courage.

Well, as much as a novel can change a person’s life, The Light and the Dark has changed and will change my life. I’m glad I read it, and it is one of the rare books that I said I would read again and again. I haven’t felt this happy, confident, and at one with myself in a long time. It is good that there is literature; it is good that books hold magical mirrors for all of us. I urge you to read The Light and the Dark as soon as possible. Enjoy!

Note: The Light and the Dark was one of the novels that I thought I couldn’t do justice to as I wrote about it. There is so much to explore and focus on in the book that I was confused about which one to mention. Finally, I have included the aspects that impressed me the most. However, I am curious about what you will find when reading it. The Light and the Dark is one of those novels that will offer you something different in every reading.

Everything important that happens in life is beyond words. There comes a point when you understand that if what you have experienced can be expressed in words, it means you haven’t experienced anything.

The Light and the Dark
The Light and the Dark

The Light and the Dark

The Light and the Dark: Picture two people, young and in love. Picture them being separated from one another. Picture them keeping their love alive through letters. So far, so simple.

Now imagine they’ve not just been separated geographically, but also historically. Imagine that their love and letters now defy time and place, life and death.

By now you realize that this novel is unique.

And, when you learn how it has made Russian literary-prize history, and has to-date been sold in twenty-two languages, you begin to sense just how unique…

Mikhail Shishkin

Mikhail Shishkin was born in 1961 in Moscow on 18 January 1961 to Irina Georgievna Shishkina, a Russian literature teacher, and Pavel Mikhailovich Shishkin, an engineer constructor. In 1977 Shishkin graduated from the high school #59 in the centre of Moscow in Arbat district.

After the graduation from Moscow State Pedagogical Institute, where Shishkin studied German and English, he worked as a road worker, a street sweeper, journalist, school teacher, and translator. In 1995, Shishkin moved to Switzerland for family reason. He worked in Zürich within the Immigration Department and specifically with refugees as a Russian and German translator.

Shishkin was invited as a guest professor to Washington and Lee University in Lexington (VA) (fall semester 2007 and 2009). Since 2011 Shishkin has lived with his family in a small village of Kleinlützel near Basel. Shishkin was a guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program in Berlin from 2012 to 2013. He is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and cultural foundations across Europe and the United States and a frequent speaker on Television and Radio in many countries. The Light and the Dark is his most popular work.

Shishkin openly opposes the current Russian government and criticizes sharply Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies, including the annexation of Crimea in 2014. In 2013, he pulled out of representing Russia at the Book Expo in the United States. Mikhail Shishkin declared in his Open Letter:

“A country where power has been seized by a corrupt, criminal regime, where the state is a pyramid of thieves, where elections have become farce, where courts serve the authorities, not the law, where there are political prisoners, where state television has become a prostitute, where packs of impostors pass insane laws that are returning everyone to the Middle Ages – such a country cannot be my Russia. I want to and will represent another Russia, my Russia, a country free of impostors, a country with a state structure that defends the right of the individual, not the right to corruption, a country with a free media, free elections, and free people.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Reading Challenge 2022

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

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