Lev and Sonya

Louise Smoluchowski, Author Putnam Publishing Group $19.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-399-13236-0
The author's self-imposed limitation of focusing on the Tolstoys' love story, quoting extensively from their diaries, proves to be a limitation of scholarship. This is a claustrophobic book, conveying virtually no sense of place or erafor example, Yasnaya Polyana, the Tolstoy estate where much of their family life was centered, is not described. Although we're told that the count, observing his principle against commercial gain, assigned management of properties, including copyrights to his work written before 1882, to his wife, Smoluchowski does not adequately assess the cumulative toll of these stewardships on Sonya: we're shown the young wife coping admirably, even throughout 13 pregnancies, until an aging Sonya was to pit herself against her husband's vacillating exercise of his philosophical beliefs and the influence of his infamous disciple Vladimir Chertkov and her own daughter, Aleksandra, who together would discredit her as venal and demented and snatch all from her, including her husband of 48 years. Smoluchowski, who is described here as ""that most treasurable of biographers, a nonacademic and an amateur in the finest sense,'' is a writer whose grasp of nuance is insufficient to this project. (June 29)
Reviewed on: 06/01/1987
Release date: 06/01/1987
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