Leo Tolstoy – architect of the soul

Leo Tolstoy

charcoal sketch by keith fitton

I’m a bit of a conservative when it comes to books.Three of my most loved reads are Jack Keroauc’s epic “On The Road”, Tolkein’s “Lord of The Rings”, and without any shadow of doubt, Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. The latter caught me off guard. I read it whilst at university secretly hoping it would be crap – simply (and stupidly in a crass radical way), because it was so heavily touted as being a great novel. Well, it certainly is. I quickly became immersed in the canvas that Tolstoy paints of life in Russia in the early nineteenth century as experienced by a cast of characters that Tolstoy depicts with immense humanity and colossal artistic breadth. This is an immensely satisfying and moving read – on all counts. Tolstoy himself was/is a fascinating man. Born into wealth, he became a foremost political philosopher, a Christian anarchist, a social reformer, an influential educationalist, an environmentalist and a passionate lover, along with being a writer without peers.

So I’m thinking of Leo Tolstoy and maybe its time to read another of his books…..

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The Passing of the Days

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Drawing of Fernando Pessoa by Keith Fitton

These last couple of weeks have been a struggle. Disturbed nights combined with a feverish head cold have merged into days filled with throbbing twitching, burning, crushing pain that contorts my body. Of course this is nothing new. Since the accident in 2004 I have lived to the accompaniment of this particular drumbeat. But when anxiety seizes hold of my being, the pain intensifies and wears me down. Comfort comes from Lizzi’s strong love, the family, our dogs, friends; and sometimes unexpected sources like the words of the great Portugese writer and poet, Fernando Pessoa. This extract from his “The Book of Disquiet” is an example:-

“Once we believe this world to be merely an illusion and a phantasm, we are free to consider everything that happens to us as a dream, something that only pretended to exist because we were asleep. And then a subtle and profound indifference to life’s vexations and disasters is born in us. Those who died simply turned a corner and are out of sight; those who suffer pass before our eyes like a nightmare (if we feel), like an unpleasant daydream (if we think). And our own suffering will be nothing more than that nothingness.

Nothing more …. A little sun, a light breeze, a few trees framing the distance, the desire to be happy, our pain to feel the passing of the days, the knowledge that is never quite complete and the truth always just on the point of being revealed ……. Nothing more, ……………nothing more ……..No, nothing more.”

Surface Detail

The latest Iain M Banks science fiction novel “Surface Detail” is an incredible read – and I haven’t finished it yet. Having read three of the Culture series before I was anticipating more of the same head-spinning, stomach-churning inspiring stuff but this blockbuster takes the biscuit. Like tasting a decent single malt (and Mr Banks has written a great guide to finding The Perfect Dram, this is matter of great complexity, strength, satisfaction and imagination. It’s a book set in different times but at the same time, featuring human themes set against an alien landscape. A thrilling, entertaining but above all uplifting read. Please read it (I got it on request from our endangered wonderful library service).