Monday, 1 March 2010
Book Review: THE LAST STATION BY JAY PARINI
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Canongate Books
Pages: 334 (Paperback, Large Print)
My Rating: 8/10
THE LAST STATION BY JAY PARINI
About the Book:
By 1910, Leo Tolstoy, the world's most famous author, had become an almost religious figure, surrounded on his lavish estate by family and followers alike. Set in the tumultuous last year of the count's life, "The Last Station" centres on the battle for his soul waged by his wife and his leading disciple. Torn between his professed doctrine of poverty and chastity on the one hand and the reality of his enormous wealth, his thirteen children, and a life of hedonism on the other, Tolstoy makes a dramatic flight from his home. Too ill to continue beyond the tiny station of Astapovo, he believes he is dying alone, while outside over one hundred newspapermen are awaiting hourly reports on his condition. Narrated in six different voices, including Tolstoy's own from his diaries and literary works, "The Last Station" is a richly inventive novel that dances bewitchingly between fact and fiction.
I was first attracted to this book by the snowy cover scene (it is very similar to the one above but I couldn't find the actual cover picture on the internet!) in my local library. not realising that a film was about to be released based on this book, and also not knowing anything about Leo Tolstoy.
The book is narrated by each of the people closest to Tolstoy in his final year, by alternating chapters.
Sofya Andreyevna - his wife for nearly 50 years - to me had the loudest voice. She was an extremely complex character and not someone that I liked at all. She was paranoid, neurotic and extremely jealous of all the people surrounding Tolstoy. She was constantly trying to find out what he'd written about her; she wanted to read his diaries and letters. They even sent letters to each other, even while living in the same house!
I learnt so much about Tolstoy while reading this novel, he was such a revered man in Russia, very much like a celebrity of today, people hung on his every word. Indeed, his own physician, Dr Makovitsky, used to write down nearly everything Tolstoy said, even in front of him, which he didn't seem to mind, he was a very patient man.
Jay Parini's writing was never boring, and due to the many varied voices including his wife, daughter, physician and secretary all seeing him in a different way, I felt, by the end of the book, as if I got to know the many sides of Leo Tolstoy's character which made the story all the more fascinating, and sad. Tolstoy comes across as a humble man, tormented by his wealth and feeling guilty by living in a big house and wanting to be free; to live like a peasant; and to be free of his jealous wife; but never doing anything about it until his last days.
The book is based on the many diaries written by him and the people who surrounded him, and is definitely one that I will remember.