The Last Station by Jay Parini

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Leo Tolstoy's last days in 1910 were dominated by a struggle between his wife (Sofya Andreyevna) and his closest disciple and friend (Vladimir Grigorevich Chertkov) concerning his will and the royalties from his books. Sofya desperately wants this inheritance (the copyrights) for her family and Chertkov would like the funds to provide continuing support for the Tolstoyan movement which he would personally lead. Tolstoy is caught in the middle of these warring factions and the obvious personal contradictions between the way he lives as Count Tolstoy and the precepts that he preaches for his countrymen. Sofya is demonized by those opposed to her as a controlling madwoman whose hysterical outbursts destroy everything in her path.

The author Jay Parini has written an excellent historical novel based on the actual diaries kept by all involved. The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy's Final Year in turn is written in individual chapters from the first person viewpoint of the main characters - in many cases retelling an actual event from multiple viewpoints. Sofya is the most interesting and sympathetic of all the characters - as a young bride she painstakingly transcribed War and Peace in longhand from her husband's cryptic and convoluted notes about the text. (I would have given her the inheritance just for having accomplished that task alone). The pain she suffers is not just that others are plotting against her but that ultimately her husband is physically taken away from her by his followers and her daughter. Sofya is not even allowed to visit with him as he lay on his deathbed - she is allowed to visit only after he has completely lost consciousness. Sofia Tolstoy's diaries have been recently revised and newly translated with an introduction by Doris Lessing - The Diaries of Sofia Tolstoy.

Leo Tolstoy might have been the greatest of Russian authors but as a reader of this novel you are left with an iconic author who is struggling to match the persona that he has created for himself. He ends up as just another grumpy old man who more than anything else just wants to be left alone. He does not even have the backbone to be honest with his wife - he and Chertkov secretly meet in the woods to rewrite his will unbeknownst to his wife. Sonya might not have shared her husband's lofty idealism but she certainly cared more for him than he did for her. Novel was also recently made into a movie - The Last Station with Helen Mirren as Sofya and Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy and a conniving Paul Giamatti as Chertkov.

Submitted by Tom O. @ Central


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This page contains a single entry by Jacki published on August 10, 2011 8:57 AM.

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