Every once in a while, it’s nice to be pleasantly surprised by a classic. Or at least – to be reminded, again, that “classic” doesn’t automatically mean “boring”. In the case of Tolstoy’s Lives and Deaths? Quite the opposite turned out to be true!
I was offered an ARC by Book Sirens in exchange for a review. All opinions are strictly my own.
Tolstoy’s stories contain many of the most acutely observed moments in his monumental body of work. This new selection of his shorter works, sensitively translated by the award-winning Boris Dralyuk, showcases the peerless economy with which Tolstoy could render the passions and conflicts of a life.
These are works that take us from a self-interested judge’s agonising deathbed to the bristling social world of horses in a stable yard, from the joyful vanity of youth to the painful doubts of sickness and old age. With unwavering precision, Tolstoy’s eye brings clarity and richness to the simplest materials.
Tolstoy has a way of depicting the nitty and the gritty of everyday life, while still maintaining an illusion of elegance, and purposefulness. In a collection of short stories that focus so explicitly on (maybe) the least elegant part of humanity’s existence? That’s not necessarily what I was expecting – in the most positive way.
Part of that has to have been the translation. After all, not only language- but also geographical and temporal barriers separate the reader from the writing of these stories. However, each of these stories held a sort of “universal” feeling, that could very easily have been lost in translation. That it wasn’t, speaks both to Tolstoy’s abilities and the translators work.
Whether it’s the longest description of someone’s death I’ve ever read, the innocence of a well-meaning young man, the life story of a horse, or the parallels between a rich dying lady, and a poor dying man? Each of these short stories were weirdly entertaining and invited a fair bit of reflection on the (my) state of life. It’s not so much the plot, as it is the feeling of these short stories that will grab you.
The rating: 3.5/5
If you want a story that will leave you feeling good? Lives and Deaths is not what you should be reading. If you want to be fully immersed, however, and be left oddly pensive? Maybe even slightly more aware of your own mortality? Definitely give this collection a go! (Goodreads)