Monday, July 21, 2008

Tolstoy (x2), Gorky, Pristavkin, Shklovsky (x2), and Wood

A few hasty Monday evening notes…

1. The July 30, 2008, issue of The New Republic included Alexander Nemser’s review of Gorky’s Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences: Key Writings by and about Maxim Gorky, translated by Donald Fanger.

Gorky has never been a favorite of mine, but Nemser’s backgound included a detail that almost endeared Gorky to me: Gorky was “an obsessive corrector” who blue penciled almost everything he read, including a threatening note that he received with a noose. I hope my compulsive editing will never be tested that way!

Nemser summarizes the contradictions of Gorky’s life and actions, noting his relationship with Lev Tolstoy, his role as a prophet of the revolution, and his acting, in the words of Viktor Shklovsky, as “Noah of the Russian intelligentsia” by providing writers with work and housing.

Shklovsky’s defamiliarization (ostranenie, остранение) often brings readers to this blog, but that’s not why he earned another mention in this issue of TNR. Shklovsky is cited as an influence on literary critic James Wood. Frank Kermode’s review of Wood’s How Fiction Works wonders why Wood mentions few details of Shklovsky in the book: “It is true that some of Wood’s critical procedures somewhat resemble Shklovsky’s, and his largely unexplained interest in the Russian author may result from that similarity.”

NB: If you can’t access the TNR articles, e-mail me, and I’ll try e-mailing them to you.

Addition (18 August ’08): Walter Kirn’s review of How Fiction Works, in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review. Strange, but the caricature of Wood looks to me like Putin... with more hair on his head.

2. Yesterday’s New York Times included an obituary of Anatolii Pristavkin, a Russian writer who died on July 11, 2008. Even if you’re not interested in Pristavkin as a writer, it’s worth reading the obituary to learn about his work on the Russian pardons commission, which Vladimir Putin abolished in 2001.

3. Readers who enjoy War and Peace might also like Tat’iana Kuz’minskaia’s memoir, Моя жизнь дома и в Ясной Поляне (Tolstoy as I Knew Him). Tolstoy used Kuz’minskaia, his sister-in-law, as the model for Natasha Rostova. I don’t read much nonfiction but I liked Kuz’minskaia’s book for its picture of everyday life in 19th century Russia plus her accounts of taking dictation for Tolstoy after he broke his arm after being thrown by a horse, and early reactions of Tolstoy’s friends to War and Peace.


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