Divine and Human: And Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy

Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy, Author, Peter Sekirin, Translator Zondervan $19.99 (214p) ISBN 978-0-310-22367-2
These 16 selections from Tolstoy's final eclectic collection of tales titled The Sunday Reading Stories represent the Russian novelist's turn away from the troubling human condition in Anna Karenina toward a growing preoccupation with moral issues. Some are brief vignettes, like ""The Archangel Gabriel,"" ""The Repentant Sinner"" and ""The Son of a Thief,"" in which a prospective juror disqualifies himself because he cannot sit in judgment on a thief when his own father committed the same crime. Several of the stories are adaptations--""Stones,"" from a fable by E. Poselianin; ""The Power of Childhood,"" from Victor Hugo's ""The Civil War""; and ""Sisters,"" a poignant retelling of Guy de Maupassant's ""In the Port,"" about a sailor's shore leave at Marseilles. ""Divine and Human,"" set in 1870s Russia at a peak of struggle between the government and revolutionaries, centers around student Anatoly Svetlogub, who is convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government and spends his final days reading the New Testament. With the exception of a few entries, this is the first English translation of these pieces, which were suppressed first by the czarist government and then by the Soviets. Hardly controversial in the eyes of contemporary American readers, these selections are not particularly noteworthy as critiques of either aristocracy or communism, but rather as lovely artifacts that give us further insight into Tolstoy's notions of wisdom and spirituality. Though this book is published by an evangelical house, the fragments of Tolstoyan theology Sekirin has chosen for it are best described as universalist. All in all, it is a delightful addition to any Tolstoy collection or a fine introduction to his work. (May) FYI: Coincidentally, Northwestern University Press is issuing its own translation of three of the stories included in the Zondervan edition, in a volume also titled Divine and Human. ""Berries,"" ""What For?"" (titled ""Why Did It Happen?"" in the Zondervan edition) and ""Divine and Human"" are translated and introduced by Gordon Spence. Spence's introduction stresses the political import and allegory of the tales, all three of which were written around the time of the Russian revolution of 1905. All the royalties from the publication of Northwestern's edition will go to Amnesty International. ($16.95 paper 168p ISBN 0-8101-1762-2; June)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
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