The Last Station

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE LAST STATION is narrated by a number of individuals who had influence or wished to have influence over Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy himself also narrates as Parini includes pertinent excerpts from his fiction and his diaries, highlighting Tolstoy’s commitment to social and religious causes. At the center of the novel is the struggle going on among his relatives and his supporters as well as within himself concerning how he can live up to his religious precepts.

Tolstoy is uneasy with the life he currently lives. He wishes to be poor and chaste, but he has led a life known for its many excesses. Tolstoy’s wife of forty-eight years and the mother of his thirteen children voices her anguish over the thought that her husband may give everything away to charity, including the copyrights to all of his great works. She is thought by others around her to be crazy and an impediment to her husband’s spiritual growth. Tolstoy’s leading disciple is Valdimir Chertkov, whose wish it is that Tolstoy—as a leading religious figure—should no longer live as a king but should become at one with the common person found in any Russian village.

Having made himself intimately familiar with the writings of Tolstoy and his circle, Parini has brilliantly re-created the flavor and mood of the great novelist’s last year. Undercurrents and subplots run through each chapter, including the story of Tolstoy’s secretary, Valentin Bulgatov, and Masha, who fall in love with all the passion that Tolstoy himself exercised as a young man.

There is much irony in The LAST STATION. Tolstoy eventually cannot bear the squabbling anymore and leaves home for parts unknown. He ends up in Astapovo, a small train station, where he becomes ill and finally dies at the age of eighty-two. THE LAST STATION is gripping and heartfelt. Parini does not shy away from some very large issues such as responsibility to one’s self and family as balanced against a social responsibility to every individual. Parini succeeds impressively in giving all the parties involved a chance to state their case with a fervor that makes for compelling narrative tension.