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A Good Place To Start

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Anna Karenina 3
Hadji Murad 1
Family Happiness 1

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Categorization is odious. There is tremendous overlap among genres. These pigeonholes are offered only as a convenience.

Leo Tolstoy (1828 - 1910)

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Please consider recommending where to begin reading this author, or where not to. A few words about your experiences reading this author and why you make the recommendations you do will be helpful to other users. If you are the author or have studied this author extensively, please say so.

alexismacnab March 2nd, 2010 07:28 PM PST

First to comment on Tolstoy, eh? I'm honored. Maybe the visitors to this site are already well versed in the genius of Tolstoy and need no further convincing. But for the stray uninitiated I will offer my humble opinions. Anna Karenina is, in my view, the best book that has ever been written. While reading it I couldn't help thinking "This is the best book in the universe; past, present, or future. Tolstoy solved the puzzle of literature 150 years ago." Anton Chekhov said basically the same thing during Tolstoy's life, "even when you know you have achieved nothing yourself and are still achieving nothing, this is not as terrible as it might otherwise be, because Tolstoy achieves for everyone. What he does serves to justify all the hopes and aspirations invested in literature." (Wikipedia). That pretty much sums it up. But if you're still nervous about carrying a giant Russian around with you, I can recommend all of his short stories, my favorite of which is Family Happiness. I used to have a theory that men couldn't write realistic women characters. Then I discovered Tolstoy and Henry James and had to amend the theory only to American male authors. Within Family Happiness live characters so heartbreakingly real you can't imagine how Tolstoy didn't live as a sixteen year old girl in love with a man twice her age himself. He must have, how else could he *know.* On Garcia Marquez's page elsewhere on this site someone lists one of GGM's short stories as the best place to start because it encompasses the author's style and power but in a compact format. He (she?) says "it's not GGM-lite, it's GGM-Tite." That's a great way to think of Family Happiness: Tolstoy-Tite. If you have a pulse you will fall in love. Read Anna K next. There's no sense in denying yourself any longer. But I haven't even read War and Peace yet! Updates as soon as I get my hands on the new translation paperback.

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From the Signet paperback edition of WAR AND PEACE:

Count Leo Tolstoy was born on September 9, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Russa. Orphaned at nine, he was brought up by an elderly aunt and educated by French tutors until he matriculated at Kazan University in 1844. In 1847, he gave up his studies and, after several aimless years, volunteered for military duty in the Army, serving as a junior officer in the Crimean War before retiring in 1857. In 1862, Tolstoy married Sophie Behrs, a marriage that was to become, for him, bitterly unhappy. His diary, started in 1847, was used for self-study and self-criticism, and it served as the source from which he drew much of the material that appeared not only in his great novels WAR AND PEACE (1869) and ANNA KARENINA (1877), but also in his shorter works. Seeking religious justification for his life, Tolstoy evolved a new Christianity based upon his own interpretation of the Gospels. Yasnaya Polyana became a Mecca for his many converts. At the age of eighty-two, while away from home, the writer's health broke down in Astapovo, Riazan, and he died there on November 20, 1910.

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