Tolstaya, Tatyana 1951–
Tolstaya, Tatyana 1951–
(Tatiana Tolstaia, Tatiana Nikitichna Tolstaia, Tatyana Nikitichna Tolstaya)
Given name sometimes transliterated as "Tatiana"; surname sometimes transliterated as "Tolstaia"; born May 3, 1951, in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), USSR (now Russia); daughter of Nikita Alexsevich (a professor of physics) and Natalia Michailovna Tolstoy; married Andrej Lebedev (a professor of philology), May 11, 1974; children: Artemij Andreevich, Alexej Andreevich. Education: Leningrad State University, graduated, 1974. Religion: Russian Orthodox.
Home—Moscow, Russia. Agent—Andrew Wylie, 250 W. 57th St., Ste. 2106, New York, NY 10107.
Nauka (publishing house), Moscow, USSR (now Russia), junior editor in Oriental literature department, 1974-83; University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, writer-in-residence, 1988; University of Texas—Austin, senior lecturer in Russian literature, 1989; Texas Tech University, Lubbock, writer-in-residence, 1990; also taught at Princeton University, Skidmore College, and Goucher College; writer and editor, 1990—. Cohost of The School for Scandal, a Russian television show.
Na zolotom kryl'se sideli (short stories), Molodaia gvardiia (Moscow, Russia), 1987, translation by Antonina W. Bouis published as On the Golden Porch, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
Sleepwalker in a Fog (short stories), translated by Jamey Gambrell, Knopf (New York, NY), 1992.
Liubish'-ne liubish', Olma-Press (Moscow, Russia), 1997.
(With N. Tolstaya) Sestry, Podkova (Moscow, Russia), 1998.
Reka Okkervil': rasskazy, Podkova (Moscow, Russia), 1999.
Noch': rasskazy, Podkova (Moscow, Russia), 2001.
Den': lichnoe (essays), Podkova (Moscow, Russia), 2001.
Kys (novel), Inostranka (Moscow, Russia), 2001, translated by Jamey Gambrell as The Slynx, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
Izium: otbornoe, Eksmo-Press (Moscow, Russia), 2002.
Krug: rasskazy, Podkova (Moscow, Russia), 2003.
Pushkin's Children: Writings on Russia and Russians, translated by Jamey Gambrell, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.
White Walls: The Collected Stories, translated by Jamey Gambrell and Antonina W. Bouis, New York Review of Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Author of introduction to The Fierce and Beautiful World: Stories, by Andrei Platonov, New York Review of Books (New York, NY), 2000. Work represented in anthologies, including The New Soviet Fiction: Sixteen Short Stories, edited by Sergei Zalygin, Abbeville Press (New York, NY), 1989. Contributor of articles and stories to periodicals, including Aurora, Novy Mir, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, New Republic, Wilson Quarterly, and Znamia.
Essayist and short story writer Tatyana Tolstaya, the great-grandniece of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, is the author of such critically acclaimed works as Sleepwalker in a Fog and Pushkin's Children: Writings on Russia and Russians. Tolstaya "is a great storyteller and stylist, a master of a small form," Svetlana Boym told New York Times contributor Celestine Bohlen. "She savors the language, plays with it with a great ease." "The secret to the charm of the writer's prose is her exceptionally precise expressive language," observed Andrei Malgin, as quoted in Publishers Weekly by Marta Mestrovic. "This colorful mixture of humor and romance, grotesque and stark realism, low urban slang and high romanticism is the substance of [her] writing."
In her collection of short stories On the Golden Porch, Tolstaya probes the disparity between a dream-filled future and mundane reality. Her characters, who are both bored with and threatened by the present, set their sights on distant, elusive, or imaginary objects. When these objects inevitably prove to be unattainable, her characters are disillusioned, but not devoid of hope. Life, though often "treacherous, mocking, meaningless, alien," is still "marvelous, marvelous, marvelous," Tatyana concludes in one story, as quoted by Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times. Kakutani called On the Golden Porch "luminous," adding that "Tolstaya is an enormously gifted writer and this volume is a dazzling debut."
In a later collection, Sleepwalker in a Fog, Tolstaya again explores her characters' sufferings and unrealized dreams "with a prose that is invigorating, precise, poetic, and animistic," observed Entertainment Weekly reviewer Suzanne Ruta. In the title story, a middle-aged dreamer plans a monument to a forgotten hero, and in "The Moon Came Out," a woman ventures to Leningrad in a fruitless attempt to find her lost love. "Using her own surreal version of the stream-of-consciousness monologue, Miss Tolstaya depicts the missed connections and lost opportunities that define her characters' lives with uncommon compassion and humor," Kakutani wrote. "Her people may often seem foolish and self-deluded, but they are never made to seem unworthy of our sympathy and care. Her language remains magical and entrancing: lyrical, startling and magnetic in its use of imagery and metaphor." A critic in Publishers Weekly described the work as "a mixture of soaring flights of poetry and fantasy, sardonic humor and subtle, ironic commentaries on society," and Time reviewer Brigid O'Hara-Foster remarked: "Tolstaya's portraits embrace the strange, even the monstrous, who must not be pushed away uncontemplated, because they are part of us."
In 2003 Tolstaya released two works in translation, Pushkin's Children, a collection of essays and book reviews, and The Slynx, a dystopian novel. Spanning the decade from 1990 to 2000, Pushkin's Children offers twenty pieces covering a wide variety of subjects, including Russian cooking, the demise of Communism, and the poetry of Joseph Brodsky. According to Randy Boyagoda, writing in the American Enterprise, "Tolstaya treats these recurrent themes in a gregarious style; her pages teem with Russian life felt and written about in a deeply charged way." "Collectively," wrote New York Times Book Review critic Richard Eder, the pieces "become one of the great political and cultural documents of our time, its continuity supplied by the wit and ardor of the writer, its freshness by the many disjunctions." "Provocation is Tolstaya's forte, and the flexibility of the various genres permits her to indulge in it uninhibitedly," observed Helena Goscilo in the Women's Review of Books.
In The Slynx, Tolstaya "conjures up a rich, fantastic and mutely believable post-apocalyptic Russian world that is rich in allegory and wordplay," Paul E. Richardson commented in Russian Life. Set 200 years after a nuclear blast, in a Moscow inhabited by mutants who subsist on worms and mice, the novel centers on Benedikt, a scribe employed by a tyrannical despot to plagiarize the great works of literature. When Benedikt meets the "Oldeners," a dissident group that retains memories of life before the devastation, they introduce him to a forbidden library that awakens the scribe's thirst for knowledge. The Slynx garnered decidedly mixed reviews. Eder commented that the work "lacks the shiver of prophecy. Despite ingenious touches it is largely a series of coarse tableaus." "Like the image of Russia it presents, the novel operates by repetition, not development," Goscilo stated. "It has nowhere to go, for the process of repeated deconstruction ultimately leads to a blind alley." Booklist contributor Michael Spinella offered a more positive assessment, writing: "Tolstaya's voice is imaginative and satirical," and a critic in Publishers Weekly noted that the author "captures the Russian yearning for culture, even in desperate circumstances."
White Walls: The Collected Stories contains work from On the Golden Porch and Sleepwalker in a Fog, as well as newer tales. Often told in the first person, the stories explore history, mortality, and loss and "get to the heart of their characters' thoughts with their intimate, conversational narratives," wrote Heather Wright in Library Journal. According to a Kirkus Reviews critic, "Tolstaya's favorite theme is an inexhaustible one: the passage of time, often accompanied by a potent regret for opportunities lost." "Beautiful, imaginative and disconcerting," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer, "Tolstaya's Russia is a labyrinth of treasures and horrors."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, Volume 4, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 330-331.
Goscilo, Helena, editor, Heritage and Heresy: Recent Fiction by Russian Women, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1988.
Goscilo, Helena, editor, Balancing Acts: Contemporary Stories by Russian Women, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1989.
American Book Review, November, 1990, review of On the Golden Porch, p. 20.
American Enterprise, October-November, 2003, Randy Boyagoda, "Russian Soul Food," review of Pushkin's Children:: Writings on Russia and Russians, p. 54.
Belles Lettres, spring, 1992, Susan Sloat, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 30.
Bloomsbury Review, July, 1990, review of On the Golden Porch, p. 25.
Booklist, February 1, 1992, Mary Carroll, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 1013; December 15, 2002, Michael Spinella, review of The Slynx, p. 736; January 1, 2003, Frank Caso, review of Pushkin's Children, p. 836.
Economist, March 17, 2001, "Speech Therapy," review of Kys, p. 8.
Entertainment Weekly, January 31, 1992, Suzanne Ruta, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 54; April 20, 2007, Troy Patterson, review of White Walls: The Collected Stories, p. 66.
Guardian Weekly (Manchester, England), June 7, 1992, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 146.
Hudson Review, winter, 1990, Gary Krist, review of On the Golden Porch, p. 663.
Indiana Slavic Studies, Volume 5, 1990, Helena Goscilo, "Paradise, Purgatory, and Post-Mortems in the World of Tatyana Tolstaya," pp. 97-113.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 1991, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 1373; December 15, 2002, review of The Slynx, p. 1800; January 15, 2007, review of White Walls, p. 49.
Library Journal, December, 1991, Ruth M. Ross, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 202; December, 2002, Ron Ratliff, review of Pushkin's Children, p. 129; April 15, 2007, Heather Wright, review of White Walls, p. 80.
London Review of Books, August 20, 1992, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 20.
Los Angeles Times, May 12, 1992, Denise Hamilton, "A Literary Heiress," p. E1; September 27, 1992, Bill Thomas, "My Dinner with Vassily and Tatyana," p. 26.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 17, 1990, review of On the Golden Porch, p. 10; January 19, 1992, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 3; May 23, 1993, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 11.
New Republic, April 6, 1992, Anita Desai, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 36.
New Statesman, May 1, 1992, Carol Rumens, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 40.
New Yorker, December 14, 1992, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 134; March 12, 2007, Deborah Treisman, "Moments of Illumination."
New York Review of Books, May 14, 1992, David Remnick, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 44.
New York Times, April 25, 1989, Michiko Kakutani, review of On the Golden Porch; January 3, 1992, Michiko Kakutani, "Life in a Country Where Nothing Works Out," review of Sleepwalker in a Fog; January 11, 2003, Celestine Bohlen, "A Tolstoy Speaks, and Russia Listens."
New York Times Book Review, April 22, 1990, review of On the Golden Porch, p. 42; January 12, 1992, David Plante, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 7; January 26, 2003, Richard Eder, "Breathing Fire," reviews of Pushkin's Children and The Slynx, p. 19.
Observer (London, England), May 13, 1990, review of On the Golden Porch, p. 59; May 3, 1992, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 55.
Publishers Weekly, February 9, 1990, review of On the Golden Porch, p. 57; November 15, 1991, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 61; January 1, 1992, Marta Mestrovic, "Tatyana Tolstaya," p. 37; November 25, 2002, review of The Slynx, p. 41; December 16, 2002, review of Pushkin's Children, p. 58; February 5, 2007, review of White Walls, p. 39.
Russian Life, May-June, 2007, Paul E. Richardson, review of The Slynx, p. 62.
Slavic and East European Journal, Volume 34, number 1, Helena Goscilo, "Tolstajan Love as Surface Text," pp. 40-52.
Slavic Review, Volume 47, number 2, Helena Goscilo, "Tatyana Tolstaya's ‘Dome of Many-Coloured Glass’: The World Refracted through Multiple Perspectives," pp. 180-190; fall, 1991, review of On the Golden Porch, p. 683.
Studies in Comparative Communism, Volume 21, numbers 3-4, A. Barker, "Are Women Writing Women's Writing in the Soviet Union Today? Tolstaya and Grekova," pp. 357-364.
Time, January 27, 1992, Brigid O'Hara-Foster, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 60.
Times Literary Supplement, May 1, 1992, Aamer Hussein, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 20.
Village Voice, February 18, 1992, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 69.
Washington Post Book World, February 9, 1992, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 5; February 2, 2003, Alex Abramovich, "To Russia with Love," reviews of Pushkin's Children and The Slynx.
Women's Review of Books, May, 2003, Helena Goscilo, "Dystopian Dreams," reviews of Pushkin's Children and The Slynx, p. 10.
World and I, August, 1992, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 332.
World Literature Today, winter, 1993, Margaret Ziolkowski, review of Sleepwalker in a Fog, p. 206.