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Count Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy displayed an extraordinary duality of character in a life filled with deep contradictions. He was born to an artistocratic Russian family on Sept. 9, 1828. His parents died when he was young, and he was raised by several female relatives. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan, remaining there only three years. At the age of 23, Tolstoy joined the Russian Army and fought in the Crimean War. While still in the service, his first published story appeared, a largely autobiographical work called Childhood (1852). Tolstoy returned to his estate in 1861 and and established a school for peasant children there. In 1862, he married Sofia Behrs and gradually abandoned his involvement with the school. The next fifteen years he devoted to managing the estate, raising his and Sofia's large family, and writing his two major works, War and Peace (1865-67) and Anna Karenina (1875-77). During the latter part of this fifteen-year period, Tolstoy found himself growing increasingly disenchanted with the teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the ensuing years, Tolstoy formulated for himself a new Christian ideal, the central creed of which involved nonresistance to evil; he also preached against the corrupt evil of the Russian state, of the need for ending all violence, and of the moral perfectibility of man. He continued to write voluminously, primarily nonfiction, but also other works, such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886). In 1910, still unable to reconcile the differences in the lives led by the aristocracy and the simpler existence he craved, Tolstoy left the estate. He soon fell ill and was found dead on a cot in a remote railway station. He was buried on his estate at Yasnaya Pulyana.?
In the lovely, low tones of a fine storyteller, Oliver Fox Davies guides us through the stages of Tolstoy's mini masterpiece. Davies's skill with inflection, even within words, heightens the social satire of the early section and shifts with Ilyich's slide into ever increasing pain and irritability. With the terror and anguish of approaching death, his voice grows convincingly hoarse. Until his illness, Ivan Ilyich had never reflected on his life. But he slowly comes to see his life as "a terrible, huge deception which had hidden life and death." As he lays dying, his lifelong friends think of the promotions that may come their way, and his wife "began to wish he would die, but she didn't want him to die because then his salary would cease." He has always avoided human connection, but through the tender ministrations of a peasant he comes to recognize the "mesh of falsity" in which he's lived. Written more than a century ago, Tolstoy's work still retains the power of a contemporary novel. (Jan.) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
"The English-speaking world is indebted to these two translators." --Orlando Figes, The New York Review of Books "Excellent. . . . The duo has managed to convey the rather simple elegance of Tolstoy's prose." --The New Criterion "Pevear and Volokhonsky's new version is . . . flexible individuated, immediate." --The Nation "Well translated. As a lover of Tolstoy's work, one couldn't ask for more, and I can't recommend it highly enough." --Andr Alexis, The Globe and Mail (Toronto)