August 30, 2007
"Tolstoy Lied " by Rachel Kadish - Chic Lit Redeemed?
Rachel Kadish's novel, Tolstoy Lied proved to be quite an eye opener for me. Kadish describes it as " an existential romantic comedy... a book about love, and how a thinking woman (an American Literature professor) finds it and metabolizes it and struggles with it and nearly loses it and learns how much work happiness really takes". It certainly made me rethink the 'chic lit' genre. I was reluctant to pick up this novel because of how it was classified, and yet, I am now glad I picked it. In fact, I am now pondering over my dislike and near disdain for this genre. What is so wrong about chic lit that articulates the contemporary woman's plight: her choices, her dilemmas, her daily routine? Why is the woman's story less worthy of literature than that of her male counterpart?
The eye-catching title is an allusion to the opening lines from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina that refer to 'happiness' , a concept that both Ms. Kadish and her protagonist Tracy Faber, a Literature professor, delve upon and agonize over. Rachel Kadish, a Princetonian with a Masters Degree in writing from NYU professes "there in the first line (of Anna Karenina) staring the reader in the face, is a lie. Nothing against Tolstoy. I'm an admirer. I simply happen to believe he's responsible for the most widely quoted whopper in world literature: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Literary types swoon over that line ...but have they considered the philosophy they are embracing?"
Reading this novel made me ponder on this as well; the human obsession with sorrow and how that translates into art. Why is literature in general driven by tragedy and suffering? Why can't happiness be fodder for great writing?? It is ironic that human beings spend a major part of their lives in the pursuit of happiness, and yet when they produce art, which apparently imitates life, it is only the tragic and the sorrowful parts of life that become worthwhile subjects for man's creative outpourings. Literature, in general,has a soft corner for suffering, yet in real life, man mourns his sorrows and celebrates happiness. Does that mean that literature falsifies life? Is it, in the most part, masochistic outpouring, or then a cathartic outlet for troubled and tormented minds? That's somewhat similar to what plagues the protagonist in the novel, and she decides to research it, and takes the reader with her on this fortuitous journey; one that I quite enjoyed.
If you have a literary bent of mind, yet are not irrationally averse to chic lit (hehe), and don't mind indulging in a bit of romance, this is a novel that'll entertain while it shakes up and probes into some age old traditions in Literature.