NY Sun on Tolstoy Bio/Essay

The New York Sun has a review of a new essay/biography on Tolstoy’s marriage, featuring photographs taken by his wife, Sophia. It sounds like it has the potential to be a really fascinating book, but Mr. Munson doesn’t really fancy it.

It’s doubly unfortunate, then—and a reflection of Ms. Bendavid-Val’s weakness as an editor—that these two streams of text outmatch in volume the images collected in this book. Simply gathering Sophia’s photos and permitting them to speak for themselves would have proved a far more successful tactic for delineating the contours of her domestic and intellectual life.

It’s also deeply ironic that, even though Ms. Bendavid-Val makes abundant use of the most private materials of Tolstoy’s wife, who was closer to him than any other person, her book does not approach in any way the unforgiving clarity that endows Gorky’s memoir with such power. It speaks very ill of a book taking these two as its twin subject that it never manages to rise above the status of literary curio.

That’s not what you’d call a favorable review, but it sure makes Gorky’s Reminiscences sound like a must read for Tolstoy fans.

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