With what felt like endless time to spend by myself, I scraped for the spine of this book from the corner of my bookshelf, in the dusty, sweaty store room of where I live. Yes, Tolstoy, the most talked about person in 70% of Bengali households- far better known for his ‘War and Peace’ and of course ‘Anna Karenina’. This book is practically his first attempt at writing. The story behind the book is that at the age of 22, Tolstoy was fraught with a critical case of gonorrhea and believed that his fate of surviving the ordeal was terribly bleak. He at once sought to write an account of his life, from as far as he could remember-and divided his memories according to 3 parts (as the title of the book states). The funny thing about this book, is that later on in life when the aged and wised up Tolstoy revisited his creation, he was aghast at the fact that most of the memories penned down, weren’t actually his own, but of his friends’! That’s funny in an adorable way.
Leaving that point aside, when you read the book you find the character of the young Tolstoy even more lovable. From the anecdote of how he felt when he lost his mother (he describes the inevitable way in which one finds it hard to recollect memories of lost ones, in the most touching manner), his sentimental disposition, and his lack of self esteem while growing up; obsessing about his ‘ugly’ looks (in fact there’s a funny story about how he wanted to imitate the dashing looks of heroes in french novels, by having thicker eyebrows- for which he shaved his off, and in order to cover up his deed, he singed his forehead just to make it look like he had been through a fatal accident!) and the detailed, intimate observations of people around him, not to forget his little notes on the different types of ‘love’ that one sees in life. It was amazing reading this book, as I swear the characters resemble people I know. In fact towards the end, there is a young lady known as ‘Advotia’ who I un/fortunately found to be quite like myself. Another startling facet of the book is his account of college life and how he couldn’t fit in with anyone and his little comments on the behaviour of students and professors,again characteristics of which I’ve seen in my own life! And it’s the 21st century for heaven’s sake! Tolstoy also has a lovely way of speaking to the reader throughout the book, he asks questions, if you feel like he did, if you agree with what he did, creating a highly conversational tone which is really nice.
This book is truly timeless, and will always be a memorable one for anyone who manages to get their hands on it, because quite frankly, I haven’t seen a copy of this in any store. I got mine during a library sale 5 years ago….
I just don’t know which passage or bit to pick for this post, because I underlined so many in the book…Here are a few though:
‘Sometimes to strike one’s head violently against a ceiling hurts one less than just to graze some spot which has been hurt and bruised before: and in almost every family there exists some such raw and tender spot’
‘How often it happens that for years one sees a family cover themselves over with a conventional cloak of decorum, and preserve the real relations of its members a secret from every eye! How often, too, have I remarked that, the more impenetrable (and therefore the more decorous) is the cloak, the harsher are the relations which it conceals!’
On renunciatory love:
‘People who thus love never look for reciprocity of affection, since it is a finer thing to sacrifice yourself for one who does not comprehend you’
On ‘Practical Love’:
‘People of this kind love even the faults of their adored one, for the reason that those faults afford them the power of constantly satisfying new desires. They look for their affection to be returned, and even deceive themselves into believing that it is returned, and are happy accordingly; yet in the reverse case they will still continue to desire happiness for their beloved one, and try by every means in their power-whether moral or material, great or small-to provide it’
‘Kerr has said that every attachment has two sides:one loves, and the other allows himself to be loved; one kisses, and the other surrenders his cheek’
So get your hands on this one!