Friday, June 02, 2006


Tolstoy's stories make us look closer at ourselves. He knows and represents us better than we know ourselves. Each trepidation, each tribulation of the mind is exposed so vividly that we just can gape at the eventfulness of this little mind of ours. And yet, he creates this illusion of innocence as if he is just an observer and has no thoughts of his own. He just describes, without mentioning any opinion, any bias -- just description. But that description will be so excruciatingly clear that if you survive it, you can't but come away with a sea of thoughts, confusions, confessions, resolutions and revelations.

Tolstoy is God!

(Perhaps, it's a bias of an Indian, but I have found Premchand a master of comparable calibre as far as psychological vividness of description is concerned.)


Karthik said...

I have not read any works of Tolstoy so far. Any that you would highly recommend ?

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Go for his short stories to begin with. He wrote only two novels: Anna Karenina and War and Peace.
They are a difficult read if you want to maximise the impact. They are big books with enormous psychological content. Since they are all translations, so language is easy. But do the reading some justice, one needs a vacation, which you are soon going to have! :)
I have both, and have read the first. You could borrow them if you want.

Pritesh said...

Yes, Karthik. I agree with Sujju. You must start with Tolstoy's short stories. I have war and peace with me but it's a THICK book. May take a lot of time and it's not simple.

And Sujju, I couldn't but agree with that you on Premchand issue. I have read loads and loads of Premchand. And I think his writing has an impact that WE INDIANS can easily identify with.

And I think my favourite was Poos Ki Raat. The poverty of the protagonist is so vividly described that one can LIVE his dilemma!

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

A correction:
Tolstoy wrote three, and not two, major novels. They are:
# Anna Karenina
# Resurrection
# War and Peace

Correction came from my friend Sambaran. I thank him! :)

Sambaran Mitra said...

Tolstoy does not keep the thoughts of his characters implicit. He does not subtly hints at what goes on in a character's mind. Instead tolstoy nicely writes out paragraphs, sometimes pages, to explain why a person thinks what he is thinking. To draw a seemingly outrageous comparison, tolstoy is like typical bollywood movies where nothing is left to viewer's intelligence or power of deduction. I am told that Hemmingway's old man and sea is a better prose where emotions are subtly hinted-to by actions. This may be true for somebody but not for me. I like my novels and characters nicely explained like tolstoy does. I like nekhlyudov more than santiago.
[Sujit, I am not sure whether tolstoy's novel count stops at 3 even. I only know that I have read 3]

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

Ya. There are lengthy explanations as to what's going on inside. But it's not true that nothing's left to the reader's imagination. In fact, unless you use your imagination, it will become difficult to appreciate what those pages are being filled up with.

Not just that, often, little observations about psychological details are said with such emphasis. There's always an unsaid statement there: that this is the most important thing about this whole incident. As a consequence, the psychological details get mingled with other details.

For example, I am sure Anna Karenina couldn't have been written by anyone else. But if it had, it would have ended where Anna dies. In fact, the novel continues for forty more pages with nothing else happening after that that could compare with Anna's death in importance. But that's for a normal writer. Even after those tumultous pages Tolstoy continues to pace down the story. Just like having sung a stormy taan, a classical singer wind it up with a slow pattern, coming back to the 'sa'! :)

Sambaran Mitra said...

I disagree that anna's death is last big incident. After anna's death levin achieves moksha/sat-chit-ananda (whatever you call it) which I consider very significant though less dramatic. Anna and Levin have a certain similarity (I can not lay my finger on exact point) but meet very different end. Anna fails but Levin succeeds.
[People may protest against such simple interpretation though]

Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti said...

I agree with you that Anna's death wasn't the last significant thing in the novel. But many wouldn't realise that. I don't know if Levin and Anna were similar in any respect. That's quite a novel interpretation that only an astute reader like you would be capable of! :)

And that's exactly the point I am trying to make, friend! The whole thing is so open to crazy analysis and interpretations! In spite of the fact that you might be drawn to think that the author has told you everything.

I do still strongly feel that one of Tolstoy's greatest strengths is in telling many things about which there would remain plenty to think about as a homework.

(Well! There's a bit of a treachery of argumentation here. If you differ with me regarding the similarity between Levin and Anna, my point's proved that there are many implicit things in Tolstoy's works amenable to thoughts and discussion. If you don't again proves the same thing, since you didn't disagree!) :D :D :D

No! Just kidding. I got your point. Do keep posting! :)