Tag-Archive for ◊ sad story ◊

Author:
• Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Jay Parini was born in Pittston, Pennsylvania in 1948. He attended West Scranton High School and graduated from Lafayette College in 1970. After graduating in 1975 with a doctorate at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, he taught at Dartmouth College from 1975 to 1982 and has continued teaching since then at Middlebury College in Vermont as an Axinn professor of English and Creative Writing.

Jay Parini has written several novels and poems as well as being a regular contributor of essays and reviews to various newspapers and journals. He is a scholar and a writer of poetry, fiction, non fiction, biographies, criticism and he has also edited many books. He has received awards as well as fellowships and his books have been translated into many languages.

He is married to psychologist, essayist and story writer, Devon Jersild, they have three sons and live in Weybridge, Vermont.

The Last Station, published in 1990, became a best seller and was adapted into a film released in 2009 which received two Oscar nominations.

The last Station is an interesting and ingenious mixture of fiction and biography. It’s based on real events and recounts the last year in the life of the most revered Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, as imagined by Jay Parini who “still thinks of himself as essentially a Tolstoyan in his spiritual and political life”.

In an interview, Jay Parini remarked that he makes little difference between biographies and novels. He goes on to say that: “they both are works of fiction” and that fiction allows the writer “more freedom”, since the writer can imagine the motives by digging into the head and unconscious mind of a character.

The story of The Last Station is narrated alternately by the different main characters, each one giving his or her own perspective on the multiple facets of the eighty-two-year-old, Leo Tolstoy: his thoughts, his political convictions, his love of nature, his compassion for the poor, his religious beliefs, his meditations and his extreme moralistic and ascetic views. The reader follows him in this last agitated year of his life through his illness to his death in the small Astapovo railway station, while trying to escape his wife’s daily, unbearable harassment in the hope of spending his last days in peace. He is the main focus of the novel, is much admired, praised worldwide and has many disciples.

Each chapter in the novel represents a voice of a narrator which the author has interspersed with his own poems. There is Tolstoy’s wife, Sofya Andreyevna followed by Bulgakov, Tolstoy’s new and last secretary, then Tolstoy himself, his doctor, Makovitsky, his youngest daughter Sasha, who was also his secretary and Tolstoy’s biggest admirer, friend, disciple and promoter of his work, Chertkov. There are also extracts from Tolstoy’s letters and various diary entries.

Tolstoy’s married life seems to be an important and crucial issue in the novel. The wedlock which was once a passionate, sexual and intense love affair, ends in a stormily complex, disturbed and insufferable relationship. The sort of harmony which existed in the past between the couple is now broken for ever and beyond retrieve.

Sofya is an intelligent, cultured woman, a great lover of operas and a talented piano player. She is a loyal wife, a good mother and bears Tolstoy thirteen children. She provides valuable support for her husband throughout her married life. She looks after the finances of the household, works as his secretary correcting his novels and hand copied War and Peace several times. Now that she is nearly sixty-six-year-old, she feels threatened in her old age.

The indomitable Sofya has put up with her husband’s eccentricities all these years but can no longer accept his reasoning when it concerns her future security and protection. She feels angry and bitter towards her husband who seems to be plotting in secret with Chertkov to change his will. Sofya senses what’s happening behind her back. She knows that Tolstoy wants to deprive her and their children from the royalties on his works by donating them to the nation, something which she regards as his family’s and his heirs’ entitlement after his death.

Everybody around Sofya thinks that she is selfish, possessive, paranoid, hysterical and even mad, instead of understanding how lonely, vulnerable and insecure she has become.

As he grows older and more unyielding in his beliefs, a life of self-indulgence revolts him. Count Tolstoy is unhappy to continue living in luxury just to please his wife, countess Sofya, who is accustomed to such a life, while a great part of the Russian population hardly has the means to survive. After leading a hedonistic existence in his youth, he is now, surprisingly, encouraging chastity, vegetarianism and frugal life. Therefore he wants to relinquish his heirs’ rights to his early books.

The Last Station is a moving novel, depicting a husband torn between loyalty to his beloved wife and allegiance to his people and country and especially to what he perceives as being the right thing to do on the one side, and his wife, who also has every right to her inheritance, on the other.

Tolstoy and Sofya lived together for nearly fifty years and yet were unable to come to a compromise or even to try to understand one another. A very sad story and a regrettable ending to such a long married life of two exceptional people.

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Author:
• Monday, April 27th, 2009

Jon McGregor was born in Bermuda in 1976 while his father was appointed as a vicar there. The third of four siblings, he spent his childhood in Norwich,Thetford in Norfolk, England, where he later joined Bradford University to study Media Technology and Production.

He started writing during his final year at university. He had a short fiction published by Granta magazine, and a short story : While You Where Sleeping, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. He now lives in Nottingham with his wife.

Jon McGregor has to date written two novels: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things published in 2002 which won several awards and So Many Ways to Begin, published in 2006 and which took Jon McGregor three years to write and was short listed for the Encore Award in 2007 and long listed for the Man Booker Prize.

So Many Ways to Begin has an uncomplicated, slow-paced plot of an uneventful story of love, disappointments, frustrations, resentment and family secrets. A sad story where “chances” play a big part. The author recognises and celebrates the triumph of love over the hardship that life brings; it’s emphasized by the undying and intact love of David Carter for his adopted mother, Dorothy and to his wife Eleanor.

David Carter, a museum curator, dreams of one day having his own museum and leading a happy and peaceful life with the girl he loves and marries. But he ends up having his dreams and his wife’s dreams slowly suppressed and shuttered in the commotions of everyday life.

His wife, not being able to continue her studies to become a geologist, often succumbs to debilitating bouts of depression and he will never own a museum, or even succeed in keeping his job as a curator in the Coventry museum and ends up without even achieving a career.

His life will take a different turn when he finds out, inadvertently, in his early twenties, that he was an adopted child. His hunt for the truth and the search for his biological mother will begin without success. But he doesn’t give up, and when he reaches his fifties he goes on another journey of self-discovery by working out all the missing pieces of the past to unravel his roots and in order to find his own identity and with it his own salvation. As he was never able to come to terms with the ship replica in the museum, he could never accept nor live with a false identity.

The novel, set mainly in Coventry, England, covers three generations of the Carter family by going back and forth through several decades, from the first world war to the present time.
Each chapter is headed by various mundane artefacts description, like in a museum catalogue, in an attempt to try and uncover the secret behind them and to underline the strong feeling of attraction, of the main character, to debris and discovered old objects.

The author also wanted to prompt the reader to make the connections about, where does the object come from? How did David get hold of it? And what further narrative information does it bring? The characters, although somewhat distant, are described in a touching, moving and human like way, with their different emotions and their everyday trials.

In So Many Ways to Begin, the author mentions the different, unexpected things that can change one’s life, like : “chance meetings, over-heard conversations… history made by a million fractional moments too numerous to calibrate or observe or record… But what he had would be a start, he thought, a way to begin.”

In an interview with Jon McGregor, he was asked, what is So Many Ways to Begin about? His answer was : “It’s the story of a marriage; it’s the story of two people trying to make a life together, and the way their own families and histories impact upon this life. It’s also about museums, identity, story-telling, and the difficulty of starting again”.

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