The Last Station

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  • Edition: 1st
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-11-10
  • Publisher: Anchor
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SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE ANew York TimesNotable Book As Leo Tolstoyrs"s life draws to a tumultuous close, his tempestuous wife and most cunning disciple are locked in a whirlwind battle for the great manrs"s soul. Torn between his professed doctrine of poverty and chastity and the reality of his enormous wealth and thirteen children, Tolstoy dramatically flees his home, only to fall ill at a tiny nearby rail station. The famous (and famously troubled) writer believes he is dying alone, unaware that over a hundred newspapermen camp outside awaiting hourly reports on his condition. Jay Parini moves deftly between a colorful cast of characters to create a stunning portrait of one of the worldrs"s most treasured authors. Dancing between fact and fiction,The Last Stationis a brilliant and moving literary performance.

Author Biography

JAY PARINI, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont. His novels include The Apprentice Lover and Benjamin’s Crossing. His fifth volume of poetry was The Art of Subtraction: New and Selected Poems (2005). He has written biographies of John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, and William Faulkner, in addition to such nonfiction works as The Art of Teaching (2005), Why Poetry Matters (2008), and Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America (2008). Parini’s reviews and essays appear frequently in major periodicals, including The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Guardian. He lives in Vermont.




The year has turned again, bringing us to the end of the first decade of the new century. I write the strange numbers in my diary. 1910. Is it possible?

Lyovochka is asleep now, and he will not waken till dawn. A while ago, I was drawn by his rattling snore down the hall to his bedroom. His snore sounds through the house like a creaking door, and the servants giggle about it. "The old man is sawing wood," they say, right in front of me. They no longer respect me, but I smile back at them.

Lyovochka's snoring doesn't bother me, since we sleep in separate rooms now. When we slept in the same bed, he had teeth: they lessened the snore.

I sat on his narrow little bed and pulled the gray blanket with the key design up to his chin. He started, forcing a monstrous grimace. But he didn't waken. Almost nothing wakes Leo Tolstoy. Whatever he does, he does completely: sleep, work, dance, ride, eat. They write about him constantly in the press. Even in Paris, the morning papers adore tidbits of gossip about him, about us--true or untrue, they don't care. "What does Count Tolstoy like for breakfast, Countess?" they ask, lining up on the front porch for interviews throughout the summer months, when the weather in Tula makes this a pleasant destination. "Does he cut his own hair? What is he reading now? Have you bought him a present for his name day?"

I don't mind the questions. I give them just enough to send them happily on their way. Lyovochka seems not to care. He doesn't read the stories anyway, even when I leave them on the table beside his breakfast. "They are of no interest," he says. "I don't know why anyone would care to print such rubbish."

He does, however, glance at the photographs. There is always a photographer here, snapping away, begging for portraits. Chertkov is the most troublesome. He thinks himself an artist with the camera, but he is just as foolish with that as with everything.

Lyovochka slept on, snoring, as I smoothed his hair. The white hair that tumbles on his starchy pillow. The white beard like spindrift, a soft spray of hair, not coarse like my father's. I spoke to him as he slept, called him "my little darling." He is like a child in his old age, all mine to coddle, to care for, to protect from the insane people who descend upon us daily, his so-called disciples--all led on, inspired, by Chertkov, who is positively satanic. They think he is Christ. Lyovochka thinks he is Christ.

I kissed him on the lips while he slept, inhaling his babylike breath, as sweet as milk. And I remembered a bright day many years ago, when I was twenty-two. Lyovochka's beard was dark then. His hands were soft, even though he spent a fair amount of time with the muzhiks, working in the fields beside them, especially at harvest. He did this for recreation, really. For exercise. It was not so much a point of honor then, as it would be later, when he liked to imagine himself, at heart, one of the noble muzhiks he adores.

He was writing War and Peace, and every day he would bring me pages to recopy. I do not think I have ever been happier, letting my hand darken those pages, letting the black India ink summon a vision as pure and holy as any that has ever been seen or dreamt. Nor was Lyovochka ever happier. He has always been happiest within his work, dreaming his grand, sweet dreams.

Only I could read Lyovochka's handwriting. His crablike hieroglyphs filled the margins of his proof sheets, driving the printers wild. Corrections blotted out corrections. Even he could not make out what he had written much of the time. But I could. I read his intentions, and the words came clear. In the afternoons, drinking linden tea, we would sit for hours by a peat fire, discussing changes. "Natasha would never say such a thing to Prince Andrey," I would tell him. Or "Pierre is too simple-minded here. He is not as stupid as he pretends." I would not let him wr

Excerpted from The Last Station: A Novel of Tolstoy's Final Year by Jay Parini
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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