Thursday, December 03, 2020

Bookish Quotes: On literature

This quote comes from The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte, a book I read a couple of months ago and absolutely loved. It will definitely be on my list of favourite books this year. There were lots of passages I enjoyed in this book, but I liked these two passages so I thought I would share them in the hope that others will be inspired to pick up the book.

Firstly, a short passage about reading War and Peace as a distraction.

One distraction was reading, and in spare moments and at at night he took to lying in his bedroll and blankets, engrossing himself in War and Peace. As usual he found it consoling. Whatever  the fate of individuals might be, Tolstoy seemed to say, the rhythms of life would remain the same. The young would be foolish, hopeful and  wild, would fall in love, and out of it, become sadder, ,maybe wise. Some would meet their deaths sooner than others, yet there would come a day when everyone engaged in the struggles of their age would without exception die, bequeathing the world they had mode to those strangers, their children, who would struggle to change it again.

In the second passage, the two main characters, Paul and Katerina are discussing his work as a surgeon:

"And yet for all that you love it, don't you? I could tell from watching you work on Irina."

"It was a rather special operation."

"Perhaps, but that's not what I was seeing. Irina could have been anyone, I thought: one of yours, one of ours, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin - it would have been the same. You were so absorbed, so immersed in what you were doing. Here is a man in his element, I thought, doing what he loves and doing it well." with mock severity she added, "At least I hope you were doing it well.

"I do enjoy it," he said, "though I can hardly claim credit for that, can I? Especially lately. a war for the likes of me is a bonanza.

"You monster."

"War is filthy, of course. It hurts and it hardens. But the fact is that for surgeons it's also an opportunity. Every month we're making medical advances: honing old techniques, inventing new ones, even upending a dogma or two."

"You're a seeker after truth."

"Is that irony I detect?".

"Yes, but go on."

"Truth be told, professional satisfaction is the least of it, because as well as seeking truth I'm also revelling in mystery. I delve into people, and you've just seen how strange, how wondrous that can be. What I'm trying to express," he said, "earnestly..."

"No matter, go on."

" that surgery is more of an art than a science. There's an imprecision to it - a fuzziness, if you will -that's maddening but also compelling."

Katerina said, "Well, I confess I envy you. To apply a Marxist analysis, it's hard to image a worker less alienated from his labour."

"But I envy you!" Bauer said. "All right, my work is important.For the individual it's vital. But the body is transient, we all know that. It's stuff. You writers, you forge culture - and culture is eternal.Or as good as."

She pulled a sour expression."Well, firstly, I'm no longer a writer. Secondly, I fear you're exaggerating literature's influence on the world."

"You more or less told Metz that Lev Tolstoy was going to win the war for you."

"I was trying to provoke him. If literature exerts any influence at all it's subtle and slow. Possibly not even beneficial, at least not always."

"I believe it is beneficial," he said. "And enduring. Even the worst of it survives its author, and the best outlives the language it's composed in . I can't imagine what it must be like to be you and know that in fifty, one hundred, two hundred years there will be someone, somewhere reading your books.

Are you tempted? I hope so because I really loved this book!


  1. Yes, I loved this book too. Loved it to bits. I've got it in my sights for the PM's prize, except Conte has won it before...

    1. It's definitely on my list of favourite books this year Lisa!

  2. "As usual he found it consoling. Whatever the fate of individuals might be, Tolstoy seemed to say, the rhythms of life would remain the same."

    Beautifully put. I'm reading War and Peace this year, and this sums up the book well.

  3. Thank you for the review of a book which sounds very good.

    1. I should have linked to my actual review! Ooops!