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Leo Tolstoy

When he arrived in Moscow in 1851, a young Leo Tolstoy set himself three immediate aims: to gamble, to marry, and to obtain a post. At that time he managed only the first. The writer’s momentous life would be full of forced breaks and abrupt departures, from the death of his beloved parents and tortuous courtship to a deep spiritual crisis and an abandonment of the social class into which he had been born. He also made several attempts to break up with literature, but each time he returned to writing.
In this original and comprehensive biography, Andrei Zorin skillfully pieces together the life of one of the greatest novelists of all time. He offers both an innovative account of Tolstoy’s deepest feelings, emotions, and motives, as reflected in his personal diaries and letters, and a brilliant interpretation of his major works, including his celebrated novels on contemporary Russian society, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and his significant philosophical writings.

224 pages | 40 halftones | 5 x 7 3/4

Critical Lives

Biography and Letters

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“[Tolstoy's] urge to shed distractions and commitments is one of the continuities that Zorin, a cultural historian at Oxford, traces in his beautiful account of Tolstoy's long, astonishing life . . . In an ingenious, seamless approach that distinguishes his biography from others, Zorin treats the events of Tolstoy's life and his writing as a single, indivisible whole.”

Economist, "Books of the Year"

"Zorin's Leo Tolstoy illuminates Tolstoy's personal prejudices and passions as the core of his fiction. Zorin's biography has confirmed my amateurish guess that Tolstoy's main obsession was his fear of the uncontrollable forces of sex, music, and violence ruling his life."

Zinovy Zinik | Times Literary Supplement, "Books of the Year"

"The figure that emerges from these pages is a complex one. For left-wing progressives, Tolstoy was a reactionary; while conservatives saw him as a self-destructive nihilist. A pious religious fanatic with a messianic complex might be somewhat closer to the truth. But even Christ himself would have found it impossible to live by the perfect moral order Tolstoy was always attempting to build: both in life and in art."

Sunday Independent, Dublin

“Zorin provides a skeleton of nineteenth-century Russian history, but his strengths do not lie there, His governing metaphor is not sociopolitical but intensely emotional, taken from Tolstoy’s earliest memory as a swaddled infant: a helpless person irrationally bound, held down by others and desperately wanting out . . . Zorin helps us to move beyond the canonical image of Tolstoy as a fabulously fun-loving, life-affirming parent. Inventive, curious, and charismatic he certainly was.”

Times Literary Supplement

"There is a trend now to publish short biographies for busy people. Such books can be assigned to provide context in one author courses. It is helpful to read more than one such biography, because great writers, even one like Tolstoi who stresses simplicity, are so complex that they deserve and need multiple perspectives. Professors Knapp and Zorin bring out different aspects of Tolstoi’s life and works. And just because they disagree in some places does not mean that either of them is all wrong. This reviewer, having read both biographies, has profited from them and recommends them both to readers who are fascinated by the genius whose life they describe."

Slavonic and East European Review

“I know of no other biography of Tolstoy as succinct, as objective, as readable, or as thought-provoking as Zorin’s.”

Donald Rayfield, Emeritus Professor of Russian and Georgian, Queen Mary, University of London

“Zorin’s life of Tolstoy marks the arrival of a new genre. In four densely documented and beautifully written chapters, Zorin has produced a masterpiece where erudition and intellectual elegance intersect.”

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Albert Guérard Professor in Literature, Emeritus, Stanford University

"Zorin’s brilliant book not only tells the story of Tolstoy’s life vividly and concisely in the context of Russian history, but profoundly illuminates Tolstoy’s character, values, and sensibility, while providing new insights into the way that his personal story shaped his fictional creations."

Larry Wolff, New York University, author of "Inventing Eastern Europe"

Table of Contents

1 An Ambitious Orphan
2 A Married Genius
3 A Lonely Leader
4 A Fugitive Celebrity

Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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