November 01, 2010

Tolstoy's Flight

Pavel Basinsky’s new book, Lev Tolstoy: Flight from Paradise (Бегство из рая. Москва, АСТ, Астрель) is a calm, thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding Lev Tolstoy’s departure from Yasnaya Polyana.

One hundred years ago, on the night between October 27 and 28, the 82-year-old writer, accompanied by Doctor Makovitsky, secretly left his estate. Tolstoy fled without really understanding where he was headed, yet he was driven by one clear desire: to never return home again. Alas, this desire was destined to be fulfilled. En route, Tolstoy fell ill from pneumonia and soon thereafter died at Astapovo train station.

Pavel Basinsky is a writer and literary critic, the author of a superb biography of Maxim Gorky in Molodaya Gvardiya’s series, Lives of Extraordinary People, and also the author of the experimental Russian Novel. In his research he plumbed various archival sources, including newspapers, correspondence, journals and memoirs of those who participated directly in the events: Tolstoy’s wife Sofia Andreyevna, his children, relatives, close friends, allies and antagonists. Basinsky sought the truth in the places where these various accounts intersected. As a result, he very accurately and subtly conveys the emotional atmosphere that reigned on the eve of Tolstoy’s flight – an atmosphere that was highly strained, electrified by the collision of various interests and wills.

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