Saturday, August 13, 2011

Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy

ResurrectionResurrection by Leo Tolstoy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was disappointed in Resurrection, but there are aspects of it I liked.

I finished it five days ago and have since started reading War and Peace. Immediately I can see what's missing from Resurrection. The story centers almost entirely around the character of Prince Dmitri Ivanovitch Nekhludoff and his struggle is a philosophical one. He's born with a silver spoon and wants to use it as a tool to build a better world. (This feels autobiographical since Tolstoy apparently wanted to use his skills in a similar way.) In War and Peace I've already been introduced to a scene where someone is drinking rum while sitting on a third story ledge and another where a plot is being conceived to cheat someone out of an inheritance. These type of situations are not in Resurrection. Instead we have Nekhuldoff struggling to come to terms with his wealth and to deal with the people who think he is foolish for wanting to give it away.

The story centers around Nekhludoff and a lower class woman named Katusha Maslova. She had been a servant for Nekhludoff's aunt. As a young man Nekhludoff had found her attractive. He'd chased her until he'd managed to have sex with her then he'd left, giving her a hundred roubles for her favors. Years later he is on a jury judging this same woman for the crime of poisoning someone. She's become a prostitute and the people she associates with have tricked her into the action. She's considered innocent because of the circumstances, but due to a technicality she is convicted. Nekhludoff blames himself for her situation and decides he needs to help her.

The novel is a rant against the prison system in czarist Russia. It is interesting if taken as a snapshot of the problems of that period. There are also some criticisms that can translate into modern systems. In the earlier sections of the book Tolstoy presents a picture of all the prisoners as wonderful people who have been treated in a horrific manner. Only later in the book does he mention that a few of the prisoners are guilty of some terrible crimes. My favorite part of the book is the very end when Tolstoy expresses his take on Christianity. His philosophy is probably closer to what Jesus actually taught than what we hear in many churches today.

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