European Diary

On Tolstoy and Fiction

Andrei Navrozov’s dispatches from Europe are always interesting and well written, but in “Love and Fiction” (European Diary, May), he makes a comment that could use clarification.  According to Navrozov, Leo Tolstoy is not a writer like Orwell and Dostoyevsky, who drew upon personal experience to invest their work with vividness and verisimilitude.  Orwell had been poor; Dostoyevsky had been a compulsive gambler; and, hence, both were in a position to write about those respective conditions.  “But what did Tolstoy know besides being Tolstoy? What did he know of soldiering?”

Actually, quite a bit.  Count Tolstoy was in Chechnya from 1851 to 1854 during the Russian army’s incursion there, which was every bit as disastrous as more recent ventures in the very same region.  In 1852, Tolstoy joined the Russian army and served alongside his brother Nicholai in raids against the strongholds of Muslim insurgents resisting control by Moscow.  The Chechens are not bitter about Tolstoy’s activities; on the contrary, a museum in Chechnya honors Tolstoy to this very day as someone who put his life on the line to understand Chechnya and to see at first hand the horrors of war unleashed by Moscow.  No armchair soldier, Tolstoy later saw service in the Crimea.  He wrote a number of acclaimed...

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