today i want to tell you about my very favorite novel of all times. resurrection, by leo tolstoy. i have given it away like twice in my life for a gift because i just cannot bear for it to not be read. and let’s face it. not everyone is going to read a 600 page nineteenth century novel with lots of long russian names. but it is so worth the struggle to read it.
i met tolstoy on a train between olomouc and prague in what was then czechloslovakia when i was nineteen. i spent the fall of my sophomore year there immersed in eastern european literature and political science, which very quickly lead to obsession with russian literature. i read anna karenina over the course of several train rides that fall, an appropriate train ride book, i think. and i fell absolutely in love with tolstoy. i had already plowed through lots of british nineteenth century lit, but had not yet read the great russian novels. there was an english book section of the student bookstore at charles university in prague and i snatched up other russian novels, which of course shows my lack of forethought with regard to traveling. because, ahem, most russian novels are sort of heavy, even in paperback. this was my first great journey to europe and i had not yet learned the art of traveling light. my parents still love to laugh about how much i packed to go to prague and at the number of mundane things i had convinced myself might not be available in prague, one of which was paper. i had enough paper to last me through my entire college career. i had bought a large number of 5X7 notecards. i am pretty certain i thought that somehow europe was going to turn me into emily dickenson and i would need lots of notecards on which to write poems, so many that i would later need to tie them up neatly with ribbons for the trip home. sadly, the notecards were relegated among other things to a pile that would have to stay behind when my luggage exceeded the weight limit at the little rock airport, bringing me to tears before i even said goodbye.
after europe, i went to the uca library and brought home piles of russian literature and history. i even took a class on russian culture just for fun. this precious woman from russia taught it and she always said…we have a saying in russia, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” only she pronounced clothes, clothe/ess, with her accent and we still say it just like her in our family.
when i read resurrection, i knew i had found my favorite book. it is an amazing story of redemption. a wealthy man is called to serve on a jury for a murder and realizes that the woman on trial is a girl that he had known in his youth. he had taken her innocence and discarded her and now has to face that his misuse of her has somehow brought her here. the whole book is about what he does with this part of him. it is his redemption story as much as hers and it is beautiful. i think because i was young, i wanted her rebirth to come easily, but years of hard living make restoration timely. and hard won. i so adored this book that i did what i always do first with books i love. i took it to mother and daddy. now i have to put myself in my mother’s place and imagine mary polly bringing me such a book and saying that i MUST read it. my mother read it, of course. and loved it as i did. and said of course it had to end this way, honey. that’s why i love that woman. and now, however many years later, i would still choose resurrection as my favorite. even over pride and prejudice. which is saying a lot.