Sunday, November 13, 2016

Book Review: Resurrection

ResurrectionResurrection by Leo Tolstoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Human rights. Why not protect the dignity of all human beings? Surely, any society needs civility and some respected legality, but why remain knowingly blind to political corruption and social injustice?

Leo Tolstoy’s “Resurrection” unearths the hidden depths of prison life in 19th century Russia. Nekhlydov, a young landowner with military prestige, falls in love with Maslova, a beautiful maid. When classism dooms their budding love, the “animal man” in Nekhlydov stalks Maslova until she reluctantly submits. Both lives are ruined.

In a few years apart, Nekhlydov develops into a respected military man with ungentlemanly habits, and Maslova becomes a victim of male aggression and associated violence. Readers can easily acknowledge the contradiction of her prostitution; while men passionately and sometimes desperately afford her services, they publicly and hypocritically condemn her lifestyle. Fleeing from a drunk and abusive man, Maslova winds up in court. She is charged with intentional poisoning while Nekhlydov sits on the jury. His personal guilt over their forbidden love once upon a time consumes him. Due to much judicial negligence, Maslova’s sentence is severe: four years of hard labor in Siberia. Nekhlydov, grossly self-absorbed, allows the mistaken verdict to pass.

Thereafter, most of the novel chronicles Nekhlydov’s travels between prisons as he tries to convince officials of Maslova’s actual innocence. Readers experience the severe suffering and true misery of countless criminals with known innocents among them. At one point, a guard confesses that some of the incarcerated should in fact be freed. What can one do? This listless question haunts Nekhlydov. The prison system is regimented and unforgiving while those responsible for political corruption and social injustice return home every night to enjoy life’s luxuries with their fortunate families. Nekhlydov wants to break this appalling cycle, but even he is tempted in a captain’s home where smoking and Beethoven and many pleasantries enrapture him. Nekhlydov confesses to Maslova that he alone is responsible for her terrible descent into prostitution. He has the means to set her free and make everything right by marrying her. Readers can certainly guess at Maslova’s outright rejection; despite society’s disgraceful condemnation of this stunning woman, Maslova is her own person. She does not need or depend upon any male savior. She would rather suffer in truth than celebrate in lies.

Tolstoy’s “Resurrection” is an essay novel. The author skillfully weaves his social criticisms throughout the narrative. Selfish love, domineering lust, blind faith, prisoner abuse, and institutional apathy are a few themes. Nekhlydov’s outcome with Maslova is as fragmented and upsetting as the unwanted advances that initially ruined them. In Tolstoy’s world, all human judgement is suspect. Nekhlydov, perhaps Tolstoy himself, finds truth and justice only in Jesus Christ.


Leo Tolstoy

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