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Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  670 ratings  ·  126 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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Average rating 3.47  · 
Rating details
 ·  670 ratings  ·  126 reviews

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Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I decided to read Tolstoy Lied, Kadish’s second published novel, because I found Kadish’s third and most recent novel, The Weight of Ink, to be totally compelling. The second novel is not nearly as good as her third novel, but the skills that will make The Weight of Ink so very good are already on display in this very different sort of a novel. The lie that Tolstoy allegedly told is the very famous first paragraph of his Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is u
Nov 18, 2007 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
Oct 30, 2008 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 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
Jan 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Rachel Pollock
Mar 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love that Rachel Kadish writes books about women who don’t show up in fiction much. The academic drama in this is spot on, at times exhaustingly so, and I didn’t figure out the reveal ahead of time. Not for everyone, but we’ll-done.
Mar 30, 2009 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
Dec 09, 2008 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 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.
Darshan Elena
May 25, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Racists
Despite her investment in feminist literary criticism, Kadish succumbs to the trope of the magical black man in this waste of a novel.
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I don't understand how a writer of such obvious talent could write such a mundane book. ...more
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This was an ambitious attempt to integrate two complex storylines. One is a love story of two 30 something people trying to foster their relationship while keeping their respective problematic pasts and differences in values and outlooks on life from messing things up. The other is about one of them, a woman professor, trying to navigate her way through the internecine politics and toxic interpersonal dynamics between the faculty of a university English department.

While I found that Kadish larg
Janis Durelle
Nov 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Extremely well written. A real pleasure to read not only for her mastery of the written word but the story/premise were both well thought out.
Superstition Review
Oct 28, 2012 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
Jan 09, 2012 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
Jul 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: women, own_it, 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
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! ...more
May 14, 2016 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. ...more
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A reviewer coined main character as an ‘annoying academic’, spot on. Very self involved, ruminates details of her life ad nauseam. One redeeming idea was her progression to a flaming, self-righteous feminist to rethinking her total immersion in that ideology once she truly falls in love with a dreaded man and realizes they’re just built with different ingredients. Wasn’t a fan of ‘Weight of Ink’ from this author either.
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2-1/2 stars. I like that much of the book seems to be mocking academia and the dominant premise that happiness is uninteresting. "Every day brilliant people, people smarter than I, wallow in safe tragedy and pessimism, shying from what really takes guts: recognizing how much courage and labor happiness demands." ...more
This was the first of three books I read last fall that I picked to read together that had a feminist theme.

I had really high hopes for this one but ultimately felt like it turned out to be quite predictable. It was almost as if it tried not to be then the author got tired and just gave in.

Feb 29, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the premise and the first 10 pages. Then it lost me in the minutiae of academic politics and brushed aside all the interesting bits of the love story with a few off hand remarks. Not impressed. Unlikely to read more by this author.
Feb 19, 2018 rated it liked it
While I enjoyed the book overall, I found the main character to be annoying and pretentious. It also seemed to drag on, and I was forcing myself to get to the end rather than feeling excited to find out how it ends. I most likely wouldn’t recommend this to anyone. Not the worst, but not impressive.
Jul 18, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Expected something much more. This was a chick lit romance dressed up in elbow patches.
Jul 27, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was ok. Held my interest long enough to be a diversion from the problems of the day but nothing of substance. Only read this book if you are bored.
Feb 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Beautiful writing but a wee bit overdone.
Tim Chesterton
Jan 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The starting point of this story is the famous Tolstoy quote: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As the intro says, literature professor Tracy Farber disagrees with this quote, which seems to imply that only unhappiness is interesting. Happiness is boring and predictable.

This controversy is presented to us as both the theme of this book, and also a project within the book, a project which Tracy never quite gets around to beginning until the end of the
Feb 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was on the exact two topics I had been ruminating on for the week or two prior to reading it: love and happiness. I had honestly been feeling rather depressed and consequently thinking a lot about happiness and what it took to achieve it and then maintain it. I had also been thinking about the nature of love and what made it everlasting between two people. When you fall in love, what comes after? When you disagree with each other, cause harm, what is it worth then? Reading this book wa ...more
Debbie Shoulders
I feel very mixed about this story of an a young English professor seeking tenure, a feat at a New York City University. Seeking to refute Tolstoy's idea that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," Tracy at first thinks that her happiness is not based on love but when romance comes to her unexpectedly, she seeks to disprove this maxim. And that is where I had problems. The romance comes on suddenly with someone who doesn't seem to have any chemistry with ...more
Sharon Hardin
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I very much liked this book. It's one of those books that make you feel smarter for reading it and also makes you realize how much you don't know! The rarefied atmosphere of university life with its all its pettiness and brilliance is as much a part of the story as the love story. The main character's obsessiveness and angst about happiness and love and women's choices and her quest for tenure are somewhat tiresomely intense, but I have known a few women like this. Some of the writing is so good ...more
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