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Posts Tagged ‘Leo Tolstoy’

It was time to read my first book for #RedOctoberRussianReads. I decided to read the slimmest book I had in my Russian reading list – ‘The Kreutzer Sonata‘ by Leo Tolstoy.

The story told in ‘The Kreutzer Sonata‘ goes like this. There are a few people travelling in a train. They are mostly strangers and don’t know each other. The discussion turns to equal rights for women and marrying for love. People have different opinions on the subject. Then one of the quieter passengers asks the others what they mean by love and whether it is possible for someone to love another for their whole life. There is some passionate conversation which happens here, and then this man, who feels that love cannot last long, tells his story to prove his point. What happens after that – you have to read the book to find that.

In ‘The Kreutzer Sonata‘, Leo Tolstoy takes aim at romantic love and the institution of marriage and fires his cannon. When it is all over, the building has collapsed and is in ruins, there is smoke all around and it is scary, heartbreaking and depressing. The love that Tolstoy talks about in the book is far removed from the beautiful love that Pierre and Natasha have for each other in ‘War and Peace‘ – this love looks more real and is filled with jealousy, anger, hurt, darkness. It is scary to read. The book is a frank portrayal of a marriage, with all the light and the darkness – mostly darkness – thrown in. When this story was first published, it created a lot of controversy, and it was censored. Tolstoy’s wife Sofya went and met the czar and pleaded with him and only after the czar acquiesced, was this story included in Tolstoy’s collected works. After we read the book, we understand why it created so much controversy.

I loved ‘The Kreutzer Sonata‘. It is a small, slim book with big font, with deep amazing insights in every page. It is a late start for me for #RedOctoberRussianReads, but I think it is a great start.

I will leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“A terrible thing is that sonata, especially the presto! And a terrible thing is music in general. What is it? Why does it do what it does? They say that music stirs the soul. Stupidity! A lie! It acts, it acts frightfully, but not in an ennobling way. It acts neither in an ennobling nor a debasing way, but in an irritating way. How shall I say it? Music makes me forget my real situation. It transports me into a state which is not my own. Under the influence of music I really seem to feel what I do not feel, to understand what I do not understand, to have powers which I cannot have. Music seems to me to act like yawning or laughter; I have no desire to sleep, but I yawn when I see others yawn; with no reason to laugh, I laugh when I hear others laugh. And music transports me immediately into the condition of soul in which he who wrote the music found himself at that time. I become confounded with his soul, and with him I pass from one condition to another. But why that? I know nothing about it? But he who wrote Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ knew well why he found himself in a certain condition. That condition led him to certain actions, and for that reason to him had a meaning, but to me none, none whatsoever. And that is why music provokes an excitement which it does not bring to a conclusion…and that is why music is so dangerous, and sometimes acts so frightfully.”

Have you read ‘The Kreutzer Sonata‘? What do you think about it?

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I watched the BBC adaptation (2016) of Leo Tolstoy’sWar and Peace‘  a few days back. If you don’t know the story of ‘War and Peace‘, here is the brief outline. The story is set during the time when Napoleon invades Russia and it follows the fortunes of three families, the Bezukhovs, the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys. Of particular interest to us are the adorable Pierre Bezukhov, everyone’s favourite Natasha Rostova and my favourite Marya Bolkonskaya.

(In the picture below, from left to right, it is Pierre Bezukhov, Natasha Rostova and Andrei Bolkonsky. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good poster of the show  with Marya Bolkonskaya.)

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I loved the BBC adaptation. I haven’t seen other TV or film adaptations of Tolstoy’s novel, but being the person who always brings uninformed, subjective opinions to the table, I will say that this might be the finest ‘War and Peace‘ adaptation yet. (I haven’t seen the classic film adaptation yet. Audrey Hepburn plays Natasha Rostova in that ❤ Can’t wait to watch!) The casting is perfect –  Lily James as Natasha Rostova is brilliant (from ‘Downton Abbey‘ to ‘War and Peace‘ to her upcoming new roles, she is going from strength to strength), Jessie Buckley as my favourite character Marya Bolkonskaya is brilliant, Paul Dano as the adorable Pierre Bezukhov is perfect and James Norton as the wavering, indecisive Andrei Bolkonsky is wonderful. That ballet scene in the third episode is gorgeous, that spontaneous dance which Natasha does in the countryside home – the dance that Orlando Figes raves about in his brilliant cultural history of Russia called ‘Natasha’s Dance‘ – that dance is beautiful. The scenes in which Marya and Natasha appear together were some of my favourites – when two of our favourite characters come together as soul sisters and love each other so much – what more can one ask? The scenes in which Pierre is a prisoner of war and makes friends with a fellow prisoner who has a dog and a later scene in which Pierre talks about this fellow prisoner-friend and his philosophy – they are beautiful. Even the supposed bad characters like Dolokhov and Kuragin are charming. The relationship between Kuragin and his sister Hélène is beautifully portrayed too – they are one badass brother-sister duo! The war scenes are done well too.

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I was happy that most of my favourite characters had a happy ending – my most favourite character got married to the man she loved and two of my favourite characters declared their love for each other and got married. Unfortunately, one of my favourite characters ended up having to give up her love. One of them died. One of the minor characters, whom I loved, also died.

The last scene was perfect – the main characters all happily married with beautiful children, everyone sitting outside a countryside house enveloped by the beauty of the garden, the trees and the forest and ready to have lunch, the children playing, and the birds chirping, the sunlight beautiful and warm and we can hear the lapping of the waves at the nearby lake – that beautiful ending which warms the Russian heart and soul, was perfect.

I have a couple of complaints too. I was never convinced why Napoleon turned back from Russia. I don’t know whether Tolstoy’s novel provides better justification. I also don’t know when Natasha fell in love with Pierre. Pierre was always her platonic friend. Pierre was the one who loved her. When Natasha’s heart changed is not properly revealed. It felt like the sudden happy ending of an old Bollywood / Tamil movie. Need to find out whether the novel does a better job here.

I have tried reading ‘War and Peace‘ a few times, but got distracted everytime and had to give up each time. Now that I have watched the TV adaptation, I am inspired to give it a try again. Hoping that I can ignore distractions and avoid temptations and read till the end.

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Have you watched this BBC adaptation of ‘War and Peace‘? What do you think about it? Have you seen the classic film adaptation? Which do you think is better?

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