Tyler 's Reviews > Great Short Works

Great Short Works by Leo Tolstoy
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Sep 24, 2010

did not like it
bookshelves: 19th-century
Recommended for: Nobody
Read in September, 2010

Do not buy this book. The Maude translation of Tolstoy's works is exceptionally bad. My rating is for the translation, not the merit of Tolstoy's stories. As best I can, let me rate them separately below:

Family Happiness -- (*) -- I didn't care for this story because Tolstoy writes it from a female perspective, and he doesn't quite carry it off. This is an early work of his, an idealized portrait of how love and marriage might proceed.

The Cossacks -- (***) -- A short work of about 120 pages asking whether someone from one culture can ever really "go native" in another. A little comic and sad, but with good natural descriptions and a study of the Cossack culture.

The Death of Ivan Ilych -- (****) -- Tolstoy's best short work with an existentialist ring.

The Devil -- (**) -- A man's sexual past catches up with him with a vengeance. This story was a little too short and thin for me.

The Kreutzer Sonata -- (***) -- A well structured, controversial story using a frame narrative to describe of the failure of marriage in the 19th century, stemming from the terribly misplaced sexual attitudes of the time. The story traces out the disastrous consequences in the relations between one couple and really pulls readers in.

Master and Man -- (***) -- A look at the relations between servants and those they serve.

Father Sergius -- (***) -- A story of a nobleman's quest for authentic service to his fellow man. This story was much better than I expected.

Hadji Murad -- (***) -- Tolstoy's best, a look at the life of Chechen warlord trying to go over to the Russians in a quest for vengeance. The story is one that will appeal to American readers for its wildness and bravado.

Alyosha the Pot -- (**) -- Good story, but much too short.


I bought this Perennial Classics collection because it had most of Tolstoy's best stories together between its covers. I advise others not to make the same mistake, and to read these stories in other books. Without belaboring the details, let me repeat that the translation is wretched. Again, do not buy this book.

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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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message 1: by Ken (new)

Ken Some of my favorites here. "Ivan Ilych" should not be read by the middle-aged (gulp). At least not in the dark where the Grim Reader may be lurking about!

Loved "The Cossacks" and "Father Sergius," too. This collection is missing many of his fine Caucasus stories, alas.


Tyler I think The Cossacks has some of Tolstoy's best writing about natural surroundings. Father Sergius carries a message that people really don't change, but I didn't find it as glum as that might sound and I really liked the settings Tolstoy chose. If I see another collection I'll go for one with the Caucasus stories.

About Ivan Ilytch I could say much more, but it actually makes me think about "sudden death" from unfathomable diseases as a particular concern of 19th century writers. Of course, we have our own paths to sudden death today, so the story is best suited for only the most stout of heart, be they middle-aged or any other. Poor Ivan, and he was only ... what? -- 45? In any case, just don't fall off a chair.


message 3: by Capsguy (new)

Capsguy I fail to see how you rate something one star, when out of the 9 stories, only one of them was given a rating of one star, with most receiving three or more.

How does that work?


Tyler The one star applies to the translation, not the content of the respective stories. The extra stars I gave the individual stories came from what I was able to get out of them despite the poor translation. What I'm advising is that people read these stories, but in a different book translated by someone else.


Jeremy Which translations would you recommend?


Tyler Any but this one.


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