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Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story

3.38  ·  Rating Details  ·  431 Ratings  ·  96 Reviews
In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy famously wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This celebrated maxim seems questionable at best to literature professor Tracy Farber. If Tolstoy is to be taken at his word, only unhappiness is interesting; happiness is predictable and bland.
Tracy secretly nurtures an unusual project: proving that h
Paperback, 336 pages
Published September 11th 2007 by Mariner Books (first published 2006)
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A Legacy of Madness by Tom   DavisRedeeming Love by Francine RiversTolstoy Lied by Rachel KadishEnemies by Isaac Bashevis SingerKabbalah by Lawrence Kushner
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2nd out of 15 books — 12 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 870)
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Nov 18, 2007 M rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The only thing worse than chick lit is pretentious chick lit. This book was so awful - it was actually recommended to me and apparently I will need to be more selective about what suggestions I honor. I agree with the premise, that that dumb line about happy families being all alike is not true and the implication that there is nothing interesting about happiness, while being something I myself have often said, is certainly simplistic - however, to create an entire novel about that is in itself ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 30, 2008 Mary rated it really liked it
This book kind of did a number on me. I finished it on the last day of a trip, when I was feeling sort of tired and a little sick. So: reading, but with vulnerabilities. The novel's heroine is a literature professor who wants to debunk Tolstoy's line from Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." She says that would mean that "a person must be unhappy in order to be interesting." So she tells us her engaging love story, which is really very we ...more
Katherine Marple
Sep 22, 2009 Katherine Marple rated it it was amazing
From the opening pages: "For people who claim to want happiness, we Americans spend a lot of time spinning yarns about its opposite. Even the optimistic novels end the minute the good times get rolling... Let me be clear: some of my best friends are tragic novels. But someone's got to call it like it is: Why the taboo? What's so unspeakable about happiness?"

Tolstoy Lied was impressively honest. Rachel Kadish brilliantly pulls out the American obsession of unhappiness/ tragedy/ injustice/ waveri
Superstition Review
Sep 10, 2013 Superstition Review rated it it was amazing
Shelves: issue-6-fiction
The moment I fell in love with the novel Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story by Rachel Kadish would be halfway through page six. Before that point the novel was well-written commentary on literature critiquing as delivered by (if it can be said without unnecessary repetition) an intelligent and sarcastic narrator (as both so often go together that they become one). But her passionate defense of books, and her description of how an addiction forms for the sound of pages turning much the way growing up by ...more
Apr 17, 2009 Ashley rated it it was ok
Had I not been feeling terrible for 4 days of my spring break with ear infections in both ears, I probably would not have finished this book. Although, in Kadish's defense, the chances of me falling in love with a book immediately after reading my most-loved Franny and Zooey are slim to none.

Basically, I felt like she's just recently realized that love/feminism/companionship/art/religion are- at times- paradoxical, and- at most times- messy. It's all well and good that she's realized these thin
Jun 11, 2015 treehugger rated it really liked it
Shelves: own_it, women, read_2011
Oh the beautiful smart language, the satire of workplace/academic politics, the hilarious gay professional ally...

Downsides: trite love descriptions, disappointing closure to romantic climax, possibly incorrect depiction of bipolar disorder? So much self doubt, and lots of obfuscation in characters' thoughts and dialogue so that there were a few passages I read more than 4 times and still didn't know what I was expected to take away from it...

Overall, great smart (yet light enough) read
Dec 26, 2008 Amanda rated it did not like it
Ugh, does not want!

Pretentious, condescending pseudo-intellectual crap. Basically chick-lit, but not even that well-written. Kadish attempts to gain ballast by spewing her sophomoric word-vomit from the mouth of an "I'm way cooler than this petty academia" professor whose very "I'm way cooler"-ness defeats the purpose of the whole critique. A great read for people who really wish they were reading pulp but want to look smart.
Mar 23, 2011 Nima rated it it was amazing
I loved the basic argument about whether only stories with sad endings could be considered good literature. This has long been something which I felt was a limiting parameter in how we evaluate what is considered quality writing. This is well written, nicely paced mystery and love story. One of my favorites.
May 26, 2015 Kirsten rated it really liked it
This book was *fabulous*. It's about an English prof who wants to write a book about Tolstoy's assertion that all happy families are alike - that's the lie of the title. She posits that happiness is the big scary no-no in literature, and she'll write her book..... as soon as she gets tenure. Meanwhile (of course), she meets a guy - the guy rushes things, there's romance that then goes boom.... I found the intradepartmental workplace tensions much more interesting than the romance storyline, actu ...more
Mar 14, 2015 Karen rated it liked it
Felt like chick lit pretending to be serious. Too many characters, and since Tracy's understanding of most of her co-workers changed throughout the book it was hard to get a grasp of their personalities. George, the male lead character, seemed domineering and disrespectful of Tracy's career from the first date, so it was hard to read about Tracy continually brushing these things aside. (view spoiler) ...more
Jun 13, 2010 Stephanie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: elib-reads
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 15, 2009 Alan rated it it was amazing
The "lie" that Tolstoy allegedly told, which gives this novel its title, is the famous first sentence of "Anna Karenina": "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Rachel Kadish, in setting out to disprove this obviously false statement, declares her aim of writing a book that takes happiness and love seriously. Her heroine, Tracy Farber, states the thesis on page 160 (it's also the thesis of an ambitious academic study Tracy aims to write):
"It's as if our
Nov 09, 2011 Caitlin rated it really liked it
I thought this book would be a romantic comedy type story. It was much deeper than I anticipated and I loved it. It is well-written with a narrative voice that sucks you in. You care about Tracey and even as she makes mistakes you find yourself rooting for her. Her premise is that Tolstoy pulled the wool over everyone's eyes and literature has followed his principle ever since he wrote in Anna Karenina(my favorite book) that "Happy families are all alike and unhappy families are unhappy in their ...more
Catherine Siemann
May 10, 2009 Catherine Siemann rated it liked it
Ow. This academic novel cut too close to the bone, what with the internecine struggles and the insinuation that having a nervous collapse will harm your academic career less than taking too long to defend your dissertation (um, see what I mean?). Her academic colleagues seemed pretty stereotypical, although definitely recognizable archetypes.

I've seen it described as smart chick-lit, and I think I resent the notion that any novel dealing with a single woman is inherently "chick-lit" -- paraphras
Oct 27, 2011 Miri rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
I’ve finished reading Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story just a few minutes ago and the book had me thinking about happiness and its true meaning. It made me realize that you can never gain happiness without beating the odds, which are loneliness, anger and heartaches. You can never truly say you’re happy without feeling lonely, angry or heartbroken.

People misunderstand happiness. They think it’s the absence of trouble. That’s not happiness, that’s luck. Happiness is the ability to live well alongside t
May 31, 2011 Libby rated it liked it
Shelves: year-of-women
In "Anna Karenina," Leo Tolstoy opens with the statement, "All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

"Nonsense!" replies Rachel Kadish's protagonist, a 33-year old assistant professor of English.

"Oh yeah?" says the rest of the novel. "I'll show you! Sort of."

There is a lot to like about this book, which aggressively champions happiness and love, albeit through the words of a woman who declares (at 33, mind you) that she's given up on romance. Unsurprisingly, s
Cynthia Haggard
Dec 01, 2012 Cynthia Haggard rated it really liked it
I can see why a friend of mine raves about Rachel Kadish. TOLSTOY LIED turns out to be a funny, smart and pitch-perfect rendition of office politics in an English Department in an un-named University in New York City. But even as I enjoyed reading this wry account of love and academia for a thirty-something not-yet-tenured English professor, there were a couple of problems that I feel are worth mention.

The novel hit a bump for me just after the beautifully written and funny beginning, which intr
Aug 23, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: chic-lit
If you enjoy a book about books for which a quote like this is the least bit appealing then this book might be for you.

"I love the escape. Academics aren't supposed to say that, but it's true. I love to dive into somebody else's vision, nightmare, utopia, whatever. I love how books put a dent in our egos..."

True, this books is chic lit which will put some people off from the start, but if given a chance it captivates with countless ideas that keep making me stop reading to think philosophically
Jan 11, 2012 Tori rated it it was ok
Another random library find. The premise is something I've wondered about and discussed with some of my other reader friends: are happy people inherently uninteresting, and therefore not worth writing about? While the book sounds like (and is) fancy chick lit, I was willing to give it a swing to see if it came to anything worthwhile. Unfortunately, it doesn't prove much of anything, except that happiness is difficult to find, and no one is ever truly 100% happy, except for maybe a brief, shining ...more
May 07, 2009 Joyce rated it it was amazing
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." So said Tolstoy. Tracy Farber is going to prove him wrong. Just as soon as she gets tenure. Or maybe getting married will get in the way. Severe interdepartmental strife in her Manhattan university's English department may get in the way of all of these plans.

In the end, "Peple misunderstand happiness. They think it's the absence of trouble. That's not happiness, that's luck. Happiness is the ability to live well alo
May 14, 2016 Kim rated it it was ok
Overwrought and pretentious. Almost abandoned this one a hundred pages in, but really just wanted to finish it. There are some good things about it. Strong female characters who are great friends to each other. If the reader is not well-read, however, she will not understand all the literature references. To be honest, I am well-read and I found them tiresome and continually skipped parts to finish the book. I don't think I missed anything as those parts did not really move the story along.
Mar 19, 2008 Kate rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: academics and acadmics at heart, skeptics of love, lovers of wit
About six pages in, I realized I needed to keep a pen handy while reading this book. By the time I was through, I had more favorite lines circled than some of the books I read for undergrad. Fueled by her career, satiated on books, and supported by trusted friends, Tracy Farber had turned her back on the prospect of love. Haunted by the topic of happiness and Tolstoy's assertion that 'Happy families are all alike every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,' Tracy embarks on a personal and pr ...more
Mar 12, 2009 Redlilly24 rated it liked it
I am giving this book three stars for the writing. The writing is very educated, you can tell the author got a good education on how to write a book but not particularly a talent. Thus to me this story she is trying to sell is masked by good writing, take away the writing and the story is a flop, nothing new, nothing profound. It feels as though the author is trying way to hard to inrtoduce something new and fresh about love and relationships, yet it fails. Honestly, I did not find anything inte ...more
Saul Stokar
Oct 04, 2014 Saul Stokar rated it liked it
Somewhat interesting. I was much more interested in the love story and the inner conflicts of the main characters than the infighting in the faculty of the English department (however, the contrast may have been necessary). In addition, the male character was not fleshed out nearly as well as the female character.
I liked the behind-the-scenes look at academics, English department, and the premise that no one wants to read about "the happily ever after", but I felt that I could not relate to the main character's fear of commitment and marriage. Also, I felt that she and her fiance were very dissimilar and that is why she was so fearful of marrying him. Could have been better if I had liked the main characters more!
Jun 26, 2014 Dave rated it it was amazing
Note to self: Write something longer about how this is probably one of my ten favourite things I've read in the last few years. Stunningly great, transcendent character work, and more
Mar 22, 2008 Catherine rated it really liked it
Overall, I would rate the book as predictable chick-lit. The characters are maybe different than standard fare- she's an American lit professor at a New York university, not-yet-tenured, and clashing increasingly with a colleague in the department- but meeting The Guy is inevitable.

What I liked most about this book was the feminist-intellectual perspective on something as commonplace as love. She's her own person, she doesn't need a man, she has important career considerations to think about. Bu
Dec 31, 2013 Embla rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 11, 2008 Merle rated it really liked it
Took me a long time to finish this book because some rush hour knocked it out of my hands as I was getting on the subway and let it fall between the train and the platform so that it was staring up at me from the tracks. So...I've finally finished it.
I'm a Tolstoy fan, so I was thrilled at the idea of that coupled with real chick lit. That's what I got. Not rocket science, but more tolerable than most chick lit (which I have a soft spot for) in that she is clearly well read and has great knowled
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I write because it's my way of metabolizing life. To paraphrase Henry James: I don't really know what I think until I see what I say.
That habit of trying to work out what I think of the world, sentence by sentence, has led me to write two novels and one novella, plus a few dozen essays and stories...and for quite a while now I've been at work on a historical novel (more on that soon, I hope).
More about Rachel Kadish...

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“Books. People have no idea how beautiful books are. How they taste on your fingers. How bright everything is when you light it with words.” 20 likes
“The Grocery Checkout Proviso: The more things you care about, the more vulnerable you are. If you are part of that epicurean minority in this country that is still offended by violations of the English language, you will be slapped in the face every time you stand in line at the market. FIFTEEN ITEMS OR LESS. Caring passionately about grammar—caring passionately about anything most of humanity doesn’t care about—is like poking a giant hole in your life and letting the wind blow everything around.” 7 likes
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