Understanding Tolstoy

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Title: Understanding Tolstoy
Published by: Ohio State University Press
Release Date: September 16, 2011
Pages: 352
ISBN13: 978-0814211649


Understanding Tolstoy recreates Tolstoy’s lifelong artistic and spiritual journey, taking readers to the core of the writer’s world through nuanced close readings of his major novels and novellas. Andrew D. Kaufman’s broad and accessible analysis of Tolstoy’s work speaks to the ways in which Tolstoy, despite living in a manner far removed from the experiences of most modern-day Americans, is still applicable and contemporary.

From a reconstruction of Olenin’s search for truth in The Cossacks to an illuminating analysis of Hadji-Murat’s tragic last stand, Understanding Tolstoy brings to life the fascinating parallels between Tolstoy’s personal quest and his characters’ journeys. Whether writing about the ballrooms and battlefields of War and Peace or the spectrum of sexual and spiritual attachments in Anna Karenina, Tolstoy emerges as a vital, searching artist who continually grows and surprises us, yet is driven by a single, unchanging belief in universal human truths.

Understanding Tolstoy is a treasure trove of critical and philosophical insights that will appeal to Tolstoy aficionados of all kinds, from advanced scholars to undergraduate students. The book offers an eminently readable guide to those entering Tolstoy’s world for the first time or the tenth, and it invites them to grapple alongside the writer and his characters with the most urgent existential questions of our time, and all times.

Click here to listen to Tolstoy reading excerpts from his works.


“What pulled me to Understanding Tolstoy with enormous force were two things. First, Andrew D. Kaufman’s mastery of the whole Tolstoyan world, in both its artistic and critical texts, is quite impressive. I was particularly moved by the description of his experience at Tolstoy’s estate. Second, Kaufman is very personable as a writer, the kind you would like to get to know and talk Tolstoy with.”
Irwin Weil, Professor Emeritus, Slavic Languages and Literatures, Northwestern University

“Is there room for yet another book on Tolstoy? The answer is a resounding yes! Andrew D. Kaufman has something of his own to say about Tolstoy, and it’s worth listening to. The key word for describing Kaufman’s approach is relevance. He believes that reading Tolstoy can help us now, in the twenty-first century, to understand ourselves and the world. Kaufman’s conviction and convincing argument are admirable.” (from book jacket)
Hugh McLean, Professor Emeritus, Russian Literatures, University of California, Berkeley

Understanding Tolstoy is very well written and structured, conceptually strong, and demonstrates a thorough knowledge of Tolstoy, his works, and his intellectual milieu….[Kaufman] has written a lucid, wide-ranging, and passionate book that will be useful to both Slavic scholars and students alike. It surely will become known as one of the best introductions to Tolstoy and his art.”
Lazar Fleishman, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Stanford University

“Andrew Kaufman is one of the first American scholars in a generation to hear Tolstoy’s voice. His foundational Understanding Tolstoy reconstructs rather than deconstructs Tolstoy’s vision for our time, and in so doing, makes a vital contribution to our understanding of the great Russian writer. This book combines genuine intellectual independence, sensitivity, and an impressive command of its subject.”
Pyotr Palievsky, Senior Editor of The Complete Collected Works of L.N. Tolstoy, published by the Russian Academy of Sciences; Assistant Director of The Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Understanding Tolstoy is undoubtedly among the brightest examples of contemporary foreign study of Russian literature. Along with a superb knowledge of original material and an unquestionable strength and depth of analytical research, Professor Kaufman also exhibits in his work something more. That something is a keen pursuit of truth, a constant restlessness of thought, a readiness to check himself again and again and to overcome existing stereotypes—the qualities that are most valued in scholarship….It is obvious that directly linked with these traits is a strength of style in his works: a style that is vivid, graphic, and always appropriate for the subject. Professor Kaufman stands before us as a truly gifted researcher and writer. The publication of new works by him is to be welcomed in every possible way. I am certain that they will enrich our understanding of Tolstoy and will provide a strong impetus for further research and discussion.”
Alexander Gulin, Chief Editor of The Complete Collected Works of L.N. Tolstoy, Published by the Russian Academy of Sciences; Director, The Tolstoy Research Group, The Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences