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We all felt deeply the monstrous horror of the situation."" To wit: in the stationmaster's house in the little Russian town of Astapovo lay dying the author of War and Peace, the guilty aristocrat, the moral hurricane--while out on the tracks outside sat a private railway car containing his family, most notably wife Sonya, whom Tolstoy refused to see. He did see his second-born child, eldest daughter Tatyana, and she here remembers that most bizarre death scene in literary history with remarkable understanding of exactly what brought the Tolstoys to this grotesque estrangement. Sharing none of the zealotry of earlier memoirists (including her younger sister, Alexandra), Tatyana generously balances her father's genius against her mother's honest efforts to keep up with him--and then her failure to. Sonya's expectations of comfort were battered daily by Leo's anguished quest for sainthood; when their youngest child died, Sonya's threads to sanity were quickly cut and she fell into paranoia, jealousy, hysterical smithereens. Tolstoy could less and less take it, and finally, famously, he split. Tatyana chronicles the domestic break-up well--but it comes more than halfway through the book. Before then we get candy-coated reminiscence of how it was to grow up rich in Czarist Russia, and very little Tolstoy: ""As for Papa, any companionship with him seemed out of the question. He spent all his time 'working.' And when he wasn't actually working he was tired. He seemed to be not really there, and unaware of our presence."" Apart then from her diplomacy and even-handedness, there's not too much more here than the lurid Astapovo scene and what led directly up to it. Happy families. . . .

Pub Date: April 16th, 1978
Publisher: McGraw-Hill