Kirkus Reviews QR Code
TOLSTOY by Pietro Citati



Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Schocken

An old-fashioned look at the Russian behemoth that's far from the new wave of linguistic criticism. The robust style here contains many oddities, perhaps the fault of the less-than-careful translation (the ""soul's epidermis"" is a strange term often mentioned). A great multiplicity of notions creates a kind of confusion. No sooner is the reader told that Tolstoy was a ""narcissist"" than we find that he hated his face. The otiose prose is not aided by maladroit Englishings such as "". . .a first form of the formulation of those metaphors. . ."" Sometimes the reader does not know whether author or translator is the source of such ideas as when in Spring, Tolstoy's ""lymph"" surges in ""his veins."" The book's inaccuracy on literary subjects also grates: Tolstoy's love of his mother is reduced to a Freudian fixation, as is his affection for his daughters. These facile analyses include a description of War and Peace as ""Taoist,"" a quite ahistorical and useless notion. Biographical detail is interlarded heavily, too, so what the reader gets is a kind of rewrite of Tolstoy's diaries and letters. Naturally, the interested reader would be better off with these original documents, helpfully annotated, rather than the intrusive commentary offered here. And Tolstoy is defended against imaginary foes who ""complain"" about ""his scant historical reading""; in his defense, Citati equates Tolstoy with Robert Louis Stevenson as a historical writer. In fact, Tolstoy needs more defense against banal books like this. A sloppy, flatulent effort.