Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Last Station by Jay Parini

Although I'm not fond of books written from multiple points-of-view, this one is well done and grew on me more and more as I read on. I went into this not knowing much about Tolstoy and his family life, and indeed knowing nothing of his philosophy and popular following, so I really didn't know what to expect. Each of the characters, though, are drawn well enough to form lasting impressions. Tolstoy's wife, Sofya, comes across as quite unhinged at the prospect of losing her husband's wealth and legacy to the common people, a transfer Tolstoy and his followers resolve to do since they did not believe in personal wealth or property. Her distress is understandable as they had been married for 48 years and she had spent many of those transcribing his work and raising their thirteen children. His children, too, were divided by his ideals, some supporting him and some supporting their mother's position. I loved the character of Bulgakov, the young, idealistic, newly hired secretary who, against protocol, falls in love with Masha, a young woman working on Tolstoy's communal farm. It reminded me of Levin and Kitty's relationship in Anna Karenina. In fact, Tolstoy's entire surroundings and relationships have shades of Anna K. It's easy to see where he got his inspiration and material, which just confirms for me the brilliance of his writing and that I haven't come close to satisfying my curiosity. I have a small book of short stories of his waiting on my TBR shelf, but as of yet don't possess the granddaddy of them all, War and Peace. But can that be far behind? *gulp* The size and scope alone scares the stuffing out of me and I have hitherto resolved not to even go there. The Pressure! I sense my resolve is slipping, though. If I do make an attempt to read it it will have to be the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation as I believe it was their nuanced interpretation of Anna K that made it so accessible for us non-Russians. I can only hope W & P will be just as readable and engrossing. When, if ever, the time comes, that is . . .

As Leo Tolstoy's life draws to a tumultuous close, his tempestuous wife and most cunning disciple are locked in a fierce battle for the great man's soul. Torn between his professed doctrine of poverty and chastity and the reality of his enormous wealth and thirteen children, Tolstoy dramatically flees his home, only to fall ill at a tiny nearby rail station. The famous (and famously troubled) writer believes he is dying alone, unaware that more than a hundred newspapermen camp outside awaiting hourly reports on his condition. 
Jay Parini moves deftly among a colorful cast of characters to create a stunning portrait of one of the world's most treasured authors. Dancing between fact and fiction, The Last Station is a brilliant and moving literary performance. (back cover)

6 comments:

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

I'm reading War & Peace all year as part of a readalong, this sounds like a nice companion read. Thanks for the recommendation Trish :)

Daisy said...

War & Peace would be a daunting task for me! Good luck if you decide to read it. This book you reviewed here sounds really interesting.

playing.librarian said...

Anna Karenina is great but I'll stay away from War & Peace for now. I do agree with you that the size alone is enough to scare me =)

This biography of Tolstoy sounds interesting. Never knew he had so many children!

Trish said...

Sam - yes, I'd heard about that read-along but I don't think I'm up for it this time around. The Last Station would indeed be a good companion read!

Daisy - It will certainly take some courage if I ever do get to reading it.

Librarian - Yes, all those children! Sadly, though, only eight of them survived past childhood.

wordsandpeace.com said...

I recommend you now watch the movie/documentary - same title, excellent

Trish said...

Yes I just watched it and loved it too!