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The Last Station


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About the Author

Jay Parini is Axinn Professor of English at Middlebury College, Vermont. His six novels also include Benjamins Crossing and The Apprentice Lover. His volumes of poetry include The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems. In addition to biographies of John Steinbeck, Robert Frost and William Faulkner, he has written a volume of essays on literature and politics, as well as The Art of Teaching. He edited the Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature and writes regularly for the Guardian and other publications.


Inspired by diaries kept by members of the household of Count Leo Tolstoy, Parini ( The Patch Boys ) here offers a searching view of the last year in the life of the author of War and Peace . His venture is complex, making use of alternating narrators taken from the contentious factions of the Master's vast estate to depict a man at war within and without, torn between his philosophy of poverty and the life of privilege he leads at the insistence of Sofya Andreyevna, his wife. She, one of the voices telling this tale, is consumed by paranoia and a fear that her husband will sign over his lucrative copyrights to the people (which he does). And like Vladimir Chertkov, Tolstoy's friend and chief acolyte, his wife causes his ``perpetual state of compromise.'' Surrounded by hangers-on, beset by inner struggles, the great one makes a run for peace in his final days, and--in a closing that Tolstoy might have written himself--the chronicler of the aristocracy and hero to the peasants finds all he has yearned for in a humble trainmaster's house. In the end, it is not the people around him who speak most eloquently for Tolstoy, but the sincerity of his own words--and those of Parini in his kaleidoscopically rich and skillful novel. (July)

* An impressively knowing and sensitive performance, a wistful late twentieth-century tribute to the giant conflicts of a more titanic age. Observer * One of those rare works of fiction that manage to demonstrate both scrupulous historical research and true originality of voice and perception. New York Times Book Review * Jay Parini has written a stylish, beautifully paced and utterly beguiling novel. Sunday Times * One of the best historical novels written in the last twenty years. -- Gore Vidal

This historical novel provides a fascinating glimpse into the turbulent final year of Leo Tolstoy's life. Based on the diaries of various family members and associates and the great Russian's own words, and told through their different voices, it effectively and sensitively depicts the forces vying for his very soul. Tolstoy's stormy relationship with his wife, the philosophical as well as practical implications of her battle with his beloved disciple Valdimir Chertkov over the rights to his literary heritage, and the mental anguish of a man professing the virtues of poverty and chastity while living a life of great privilege become clearly manifest. Tolstoy's tragedy is that of a man whose life has been plagued by contradictions, and one can easily understand why in his last days he felt compelled to flee forever the home he had known since childhood. A compelling portrait likely to inspire further investigation into the original sources, this is very highly recommended.-- David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Petersburg, Fla.

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