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Childhood, Boyhood, Youth (1856)

by Leo Tolstoy

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905616,369 (3.76)20
'Despite the tangle of ideas in my mind . . . I was young, innocent, free, and therefore almost happy' Leo Tolstoy began his trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, Youth,in his early twenties. Although he would in his old age famously dismiss it as an 'awkward mixture of fact and fiction', generations of readers have not agreed, finding the novel to be a charming and insightful portrait of inner growth against the background of a world limned with extraordinary clarity, grace and colour. Evident too in its brilliant account of a young person's emerging awareness of the world and of his place within it are many of the stances, techniques and themes that would come to full flower in the immortal War and Peaceand Anna Karenina, and in the other great works of Tolstoy's maturity. Judson Rosengrant's lucid new translation conveys the freshness, poetry, and power of Tolstoy's early prose, while his introduction looks at Tolstoy's early development and the complex relationship between the trilogy and his life. The edition also contains a biographical chronology, suggestions for further reading, extensive historical notes and a list of characters. Translated with an introduction and notes by Judson Rosengrant… (more)

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Showing 5 of 5
This is an instance where, I think, translation matters. I checked this book out electronically from my library--the only copy in the entire system--and realized too late that it was a Barnes & Noble production with an anonymous translator. In the preface, in fact, the translator spoke of Tolstoy as being alive, so I imagine this was translated during the author's lifetime! I have a sense that if I'd read the newer translations, I'd have gotten even more out of this. That being said, Tolstoy's genius was evident even in this fragmentary, very early work. His description of nature and natural phenomenon is second to none. His complex and deep character descriptions (rather than characterization, which I don't think had truly reached its full flower here) transfixed me, and I copied down many examples for later study. It ends abruptly, of course, because it was meant to be a much longer work, and there is, frustratingly, an entire section that the translator merely reports was not included in the original Russian. I have no idea if this means it was lost or never written. ( )
  bookofmoons | Sep 1, 2016 |
Though not called a "memoir," Tolstoy's trilogy [Childhood, Boyhood, Youth] is based on himself. It is his first published work and it is a joy to read. The boy, Nikolai Irten'ev, retells his childhood from about the age of eight to seventeen. It is not, however, the 'boy' telling the story, but his older, more mature (about 24 - Tolstoy's age when he wrote it) self who narrates with such astuteness and clarity the feelings of young boy angry at his tutor, the shame he feels when a complimentary poem he writes for his grandmother's name-day feels like a falsehood, and the contradictory thoughts and feelings of an adolescent who is vain, snobbish and self-involved, yet sensitive and easily offended. The tone of the narrative is so well-balanced, that the reader comes to truly like Nikolai, despite his sometimes inane and thoughtless actions, because of the insight of his narrator-self. One would have liked the story to continue to the point where we see this more empathetic and insightful Irten'ev come into being. In some ways, the narrative reminds me of Turgenev's novella "First Love," also the story of an adolescent retold from the perspective of a much older, wiser man. While Turgenev's story is a masterpiece as well, there is something so honest and unforced (the power of a great artist) about Tolstoy's early work that makes it refreshing to read.

Another wonderful thing about these novellas is the description of how the Russian landed classes lived, how they interacted with their peers and with their subordinates, how they interacted with the opposite sex, what was thought 'comme il faut' and how important propriety was to this society. There is something a little 'Jane Austenish' about it. ( )
  Marse | May 8, 2015 |
A tender, sensitive book, and partly autobiographical - but only partly.

Tolstoy had a difficult childhood, and at this time in his life, after seeing the Crimean War, and having been through so much - a difficult childhood, with both parents dying young, we see both the intense frustration he has with the world, but also his sensitivity and goodness - his ability to understand people, which so colors the rest of his work. It is partly his own life shown here, but also the childhood he wished he had. He paints these innocent scenes so well that one can recognize their own self in it - or is that just me, with my delusions of grandeur of being like him in some way?

In any case, a very good book. Recommended for Tolstoy fans, as well as anyone reminiscing about childhood. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
This purports to be fiction but supposedly it is autobiographical. One can see why Tolstoy would not hold it forth as autobiography, since the narrator is an annoying and unlikeable person, who does stupid and gauche things repeatedly. But one can see that Tolstoy is an able writer, even in this early work, published in 1852 and 1856. I cannot say I enjoyed it greatly, but after finishing it I was glad to have read it and felt the time spent reading it was worthwhile ( )
  Schmerguls | Jul 22, 2009 |
Difficult to rate as I read a sickly-sweet Finnish translation, so I'll give it a three as it clearly can't be quite as bad as it seemed. In any case this early Tolstoy work was originally published part by part with the third publication combining _Childhood_ and _Boyhood_ with _Youth_, the final part. _Youth_ is by far the strongest work in this trilogy, the only part that made me think this really is Tolstoy. The two earlier parts, which made me gag and retch and angry enough to want to slap Tolstoy, appear to have more clarity and taste in the Maude translation this edition refers to, but I doubt even a good translation can completely negate the general dullness of them. ( )
  vaellus | Jun 6, 2007 |
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Penguin Australia

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