Title: Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story
Author: Rachel Kadish
Release Date: September 11, 2007
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Chick Lit
Review: Originally Posted at Curled Up With a Good Book
Rating: 5 out of 5
One of the most pertinent questions regarding Tolstoy Lied by Rachel Kadish is: Do you need to have read Tolstoy in order to understand the book? The short answer: Sort of. The long answer: You don’t need to have read Tolstoy in order to understand the book. But reading Anna Karenina would help you to appreciate Kadish’s novel, which in all its glory cannot be fully comprehended and appreciated without knowledge of the tragic story of Anna Karenina and the main message that Tolstoy aimed to convey through that tragic tale. Specifically, the quote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” plays an integral part in both books. Tolstoy’s message is that unhappy people have stories to tell; they are unique and interesting, unhappy in their own ways. Happy people can generally be brushed aside because their tales are like the tale of any other happy person. Therefore, the only stories worth reading are stories about unhappy people.
The main character in Tolstoy Lied, Tracy Farber, takes this quote to heart. She sets out on her personal journey determined to prove Tolstoy false; in essence, she wants to prove to the world that Tolstoy lied in the famous opening line of Anna Karenina. As a well-read, intelligent English professor at a small school in upstate New York, Farber asks herself (and everyone around her) why the only books that seem to be lauded critically are books with unhappy endings. Books with happy endings are brushed off as too shallow and superficial to have any real intelligence behind them. And indeed, this does happen quite often in the real world. Book genres such as “chick lit” are brushed off as shallow beach reads, whereas tragic books such as Anna Karenina are hailed as classics and critically lauded. If Tolstoy had not ended the book the way he had chosen (I will not spoil the ending for those of you who have not read Anna Karenina), would it have been lauded as such a masterpiece? Tracy Farber’s answer is a resounding “no.”
Besides her philosophical thoughts on books, Tracy Farber has a multitude of personal issues to deal with as well. From the slightly crazy co-worker who seems bent on making her and her prize graduate student’s lives a living hell to George, the reformed fundamentalist Christian whom Tracy finds irresistible, Farber is constantly having to prove Tolstoy’s thesis wrong – that she can have a happy life and still have a story worth telling. And it is definitely a struggle. Farber has difficult situations thrown at her out of left field, yet manages to handle them with a grace that Anna Karenina only wished she had. This makes Tracy extremely endearing; by the end of the first 100 pages, the reader is rooting for Tracy Farber, wanting her to prove Tolstoy wrong.
And this is where the kudos to Rachel Kadish comes in. In Tolstoy Lied, Kadish manages to write very believable characters that readers can empathize with. She manages to make Tracy funny and witty, yet those characteristics do not define her. Tracy is as multifaceted as any real person you might encounter on the street. Kadish also has a compelling writing style and is also very talented as a writer. The book flows smoothly – there are no jarring transitions. The story is one long seamless tale, from beginning to end. More importantly, however, Kadish writes her characters intelligently. Most of the characters in the book are smart people, which is extremely appealing. There seems to be a dearth of generally happy stories about intelligent characters with some depth in fiction today. The main appeal of Tolstoy Lied is that it is a book for intelligent people who agree with the title: Tolstoy lied. Happy people do have stories of depth and meaning to tell as well.