"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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…led me to this work of Leo Tolstoy. Dworkin commences her work, Intercourse, with a heated polemic against both Tolstoy himself, as well as this particular work, “The Kreutzer Sonata.” Dworkin states that it was the composer, Gustav Mahler, who told his wife, whom he suspected of being unfaithful, to read “Kreutzer,” then he f*** her, to use Dworkin’s vernacular, and left. Thirty pages later, Dworkin’s diatribe against the author and this work is finally exhausted. I remain profoundly ambivalent about Dworkin, and her work, stating in my review: “Overall it is a most depressing “downer,” characterizing what can be the most joyful and exciting of human experiences as universally negative.” I rated Dworkin’s work 3-stars, but was stimulated to read for myself what Dworkin felt merited thirty pages of her utter discontent.
The best part of this edition of “Kreutzer” is the introduction by Nobel Prize Winner, Doris Lessing. She puts the proper perspective on this work, starting with the fact that it is the 19th Century. Should we blame Tolstoy in particular for the fact that during at least half of that century, slavery and serfs were legal? Or that many a woman was held in conditions that were the equivalent, or not much better? What has happened since? Lessing keys in on the essential aspect of emancipation: “What has happened? Birth Control has.” Concerning “Kreutzer,” Lessing says: “Here is a landscape of despair – no exit.” And: “To read this book now is like listening to a scream of anguish from a hell that women have escaped from, and men too.”
Tolstoy wrote this work in 1889, long after he had achieved fame for War and Peace (Vintage Classics)), so much so that some liberals wags claimed: Russia has two Czars, the Czar and Tolstoy. In contrast to Tolstoy’s magnum opus, “Kreutzer” is a novella. Passengers are on a long-distance train trip, and one relates his shame of having killed his wife. It is a psychological novella of high drama, dominated by sexual obsession and jealousy. The husband, indeed, may not have been very good in bed: brutish always comes to mind. The stereotypical much-more-sensitive artist, Trukhashevsky, comes along, and can play Beethoven’s titled sonata beautifully. Not much of a “nudge” is needed for the artist and the other man’s wife to take things to their logical, or rather, passionate denouement. The husband first suspects, and then his surprise early return from a trip confirms, his suspicions. It is both rage, and an “honor” killing. Yes, of the same sort that we hear about in the news today, in sometimes distant lands, and thanks to migration, our own. A particular mindset, that as Lessing notes, many women and men have escaped from.
Concerned about Dworkin’s denunciations, I kept looking for some indication that Tolstoy approved of any of this. I saw none. Instead, Dworkin had provided a mish-mash of confusing this story with Tolstoy’s own life, his wife, Sonya, and the fact she was worn out bearing 13 children (ah, the pill!), and how dare Tolstoy be strongly sexed going well into his ‘70’s.
Tolstoy’s novella is of a particular time and place. It is well-written. It is a bit depressing. The societal issues are not that profound, and have transcended cultures in time and place. Overall, 4-stars.
This novella was written by Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) in 1889 after his spiritual crisis of 1879, after he, like the American president Thomas Jefferson, began to preach a radical form of Christianity based on his own version of the New Testament Gospels, a volume that he wrote in which he removed all references to miracles and supernatural events. Tolstoy also took a strong view concerning marriage. He contended that it was not Jesus who instituted marriage but the Church which he despised. Tolstoy wrote: "The Christian's ideal is love of God and his neighbor, self-renunciation in order to serve God and his neighbor; carnal love, marriage, means serving oneself, and therefore is, in any case, a hindrance in the service of God and men." Just as conservative Christians disliked his New Testament version, The Kreutzer Sonata, which expressed Tolstoy’s radical view regarding marriage, was censored by the Russian government and many people criticized it world-wide. Within a year, the US Post Office prohibited the mailing of newspapers containing serialized installments of the book. Theodore Roosevelt called Tolstoy a "sexual moral pervert." The book Kreutzer Sonata is about Tolstoy’s strange views about marriage and sex. Tolstoy felt that people should not engage in sex. The story is a tale of a man who killed his wife because of jealous rage. The man tells others that women have power over men, and society is fashioned to give women this power and enhance their pleasure. He argues that marriages do not work. He tells about his own marriage to prove his point. His wife was attracted to a violinist and the two played Beethoven’s Sonata number 9, Kreutzer Sonata, together. He tried to hide his jealousy and goes on a trip. When he returned, he found his wife and the violinist together and kills his wife. The violinist escaped.
Arguable the greatest writer behind Shakespeare, Tolstoy was also obsessed with many odd ideas. This short story is filled with many of them including his diatribe about women and sex. According to his thoughts no one should ever have sex because it is a filthy thing. He even advocates this stance despite the fact that humanity itself would slowly disappear. And do not be mislead that this is only the theory of his main character. If all the silliness were edited out it would make an interesting tale. Unedited it is hard to swallow. If I only read TKS I would never have believed the same hands wrote War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
Tolstoy examines jealous obsession in a short Novella that is narrated by the main character to a total stranger he meets on a train journey. As his story unfolds the lines are blurred between what really occurred and what his obsessive imagination believes occurred. The listener as well as the reader are met with a dark bordering on mad philosophy of man who has lost part of his humanity through his nihilistic and negative views of love and relationships which in his case lead to tragedy driven by obsession. In Tolstoy's hands this dark tale is a page turner and a thought provoking read.