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Sunday, April 4, 2010

From Russia With Love

It seems literature is an unending font of inspiration for filmmakers. Take Michael Hoffman's The Last Station, a robust portrayal of Tolstoy's last years and his marital struggles following his spiritual conversion from his position as a man of the world and of letters, to a prophetic figure who renounces property, orthodox religion, and conventional attachments.

Christopher Plummer (better known as Captain Von Trapp in his younger years) and Helen Mirren were both nominated for Oscars in their electric and emotional performances as Tolstoy and his wife, the Countess Sofya. The film explores the tension of young love with the uphill slog - and joys - of marriage, and the conflict between ideals and reality, the warring duties to oneself, one's family, and one's nation.

Should you see the film - and you should! - come over to the store check out the novel on which the movie was based, Jay Parini's The Last Station.You'll find Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy a magnetic character who deserves attention for his personality and his writings, both fiction and philosophy.

Anna Karenina and War and Peace are masterpieces of world literature and Tolstoy's writing is elegant and energetic. Get a hold of the Richard Pevear and Lara Volokhonsky version, who have translated both books with verve and an ear for accessible language. (This dynamic duo have also translated Dostoyevsky and Dumas to great effect.)

Or, if you're familiar with his larger works, try his shorter fictions: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and The Devil And Other Stories.

Should you want to read the manifesto which sparked the Tolstoyan cause and inspired writers like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jnr., pick up his Confessions, a brief and honest record of his conversion, beautifully printed by (who else?) Penguin.

Posted by Christy

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