Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Title of novel: "Resurrection"

Author and translator: Leo Tolstoy, Vera Traill

First sentence: "No matter that men in the hundreds of thousands disfigured the land on which they swarmed, paved the ground with stones so no green thing could grow, filled the air with fumes of coal and gas, lopped back all trees, and drove away every animal and every bird: spring was still spring, even in the town."

A wise person whose name I can't remember said for a modern English-speaker reading 19th century Russian novels, the first hundred pages tend to be a confusing, difficult trudge. Then suddenly, around page 100, you find oneself swept away. The people who seemed like they had incomprehensible motives and too many names are suddenly a center of your own life, as important, at least, as your own current activities.

Tolstoy makes special demands on the reader. Once you're inside him, inside his power, he's demanding of you what he demands of himself: What about everything? What does everything mean, and how can it be healed?

Looking at the ground of the city and finding hope anyway somehow goes with the more famous scene in "War and Peace" where Andrei looks at the sky after he has fallen in battle and finds meaning, somehow, convincingly, that Tolstoy conveys almost psychically to the reader, using the cover of words.