Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 92 -- Tolstoy

by A. N. Wilson

Started: Nov. 13
Finished: Nov. 24

Amazon link: Tolstoy: A Biography

Notes: For some few years now I've been enthralled by Tolstoy's journey as a writer and his changing views of morality and spirituality during his life. I'm not saying I agree with his viewpoint on everything, nor that I strive to, but I find his thoughts and writing interesting, his non-fiction more so than his fiction. So, for some while I've been looking for a good, popular biography of this famous author, a biography that doesn't get too bogged down by the scholarly approach. From my research, this book appears to fit the bill.

Mini review: I have plenty of quibbles with this book, but I must say, it has opened my eyes to much about Tolstoy and his life. For one thing, the author demystifies the sense of awe that surrounded Tolstoy during his later life and to some extent after his death. I believe there's little doubt Tolstoy was a literary genius, but I think there was also at least a little dementia there, perhaps growing worse with senility as he aged. Tolstoy put enormous emotional, spiritual and somewhat financial pressures on those family members closest to him, but they in turn (especially his wife) apparently made his last few decades no bed of roses. It did not help things that Tolstoy seemed to have an occasional tendency to stir up trouble simply for the sake of being noticed, of drawing attention to himself. All that being said, one of the problems I had with this book was that I felt it focused too much on Tolstoy's later years, especially the last few decades when his life was in turmoil to some extent or another. To be fair, that section of Tolstoy's life is much, much more available to historians and writers and readers than the earlier years because Tolstoy himself and his wife and his family and ... geez, it seems like every person the man ever spent more than a minute with ... wrote out extensive diary notes, letters, official papers, etc. I feel this was a solid book for what I wanted, but now I'm kind of wanting more, my eyes having been opened to Tolstoy, the world he existed in, and others around him.


Charles Gramlich said...

How little I know about the Russian giants.

Ty Johnston said...

Charles, I'm pretty much in the same boat, but I'm learning. Interestingly enough, apparently 19th Century Russia had a burgeoning literary community as strong as that of England during Elizabeth I or Paris in the early 20th Century.