Tolstoy’s False Disciple: The Untold Story of Leo Tolstoy and Vladimir Chertkov by Alexandra Popoff

Tolstoy

When I was in school, I read The Death of Ivan Ilych and feel in love with Russian literature.  No, I think I fell in love with Russia in toto. How could one not with a beautiful and mysterious place with churches like the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood? Coolest.Name.Ever. My obsession led me to the first career goal I ever had, to work for the State Department in Russia. Then the wall came down and so did my enthusiasm. Anywho….

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As the years have gone on, I’ve devoured other Russian works and have never been disappointed. (even though I still have issues with the practice of patronymic naming) Strangely, I’ve never really read a thing about the authors themselves, until now.

Tolstoy was an idol in his time and he created a social movement that garnered a ton of followers called Tolstoyans.

“To speak of “Tolstoyism,” to seek guidance, to inquire about my solution of questions, is a great and gross error. There has not been, nor is there any “teaching” of mine. There exists only the one eternal universal teaching of the Truth, which for me, for us, is especially clearly expressed in the Gospels…I advised this young lady to live not by my conscience, as she wished, but by her own” Tolstoy- What is Religion?

The top follower was Vladimir Chertkov and his Machiavellianism ended up ruling over Tolstoy, his work, legacy, and even his death as you will learn in Tolstoy’s False Disciple.

I found the power that Chertkov wielded over a person that founded his own social movement astounding. Tolstoy was arguably the greatest Russian writer and thinker and yet he was led around by the nose by this chameleon-like  upstart. Frightening, to say the least.

The book gave me a better understanding of the times they lived in, a new appreciation of Tolstoy and his work, and knocked the pedestal that I had him on down a few feet. It was an awesome study in how a person’s character can be so powerful even when they have no new ideas of their own to offer.  Chertkov was a vile human being in my book, but in no way does this make the book vile. It may make you want to go back in time and smack poor Leo on the head though…

There is also a not-so-favorable review on The New Yorker.

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City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin

City of Liars

This period of New York history, right around 1800, is really lacking representation in historical fiction. I can think of only a few that I have ever read set then and it’s a shame because the big names like Hamilton, Washington, Jefferson, etc. were either still alive or at least still known as contemporary figures and the whole country was finally settling down to the business of being a country. New York City still had a lot of wide open spaces, pigs roamed the streets as de-facto organic garbage collectors and the citizens were starting to struggle with the growing needs for drinkable water. There was no hint of the city we all know today.

Elma Sands, a young pretty Quaker woman, comes to the city to live with her cousin and hopefully to escape the out-of-wedlock label she has been forced to wear in her small town in Northern New York. Her cousin, Catherine Ring, looks upon her as a younger sister and hopes to alleviate some of her feelings of isolation with Elma near.

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and rising and hungry for more power. Their enmity is already set, but their ultimate confrontation was a few years away. Right then, they were the poster boys for the drive to get water to the city that was growing by leaps and bounds daily. Unfortunately, their aims were more about power and gain than by actually doing the public service of public works.

Elma falls in love with a boarder in the Ring household and while it makes Catherine worry, the risk seems to be resolving when she tells her cousin that she and her beau intend to be married as soon as they tell his brother, a right hand man of the water company. The young man looks to be in love with her and Catherine breathes a sigh of relief when the pair leave together to share the good news. The next morning, the young man is back home, but Elma is nowhere to be found.

Soon, the whole city is looking for Elma and hounding her extended family on Greenwich Street. Catherine soon learns that when it comes to dealing with the cronies of Burr and Hamilton, the public is at a distinct disadvantage. When Elma’s body is found at the bottom of a useless newly dug well, she finds herself alone in fighting for the truth and ultimately for justice.

The period was fabulously written and it is oddly comforting to see that the “haves” have always had a leg up when dealing with the “have-nots”. It is never right and always hard to swallow, but Catherine is a strong heroine that you can’t help identify with. I’ll be on the lookout for more from Eve Karlin.

City of Liars and Thieves by Eve Karlin

  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Publisher: Alibi (January 13, 2015)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • ASIN: B00LYXY076

 

This book was provided by TLC Book Tours. See what other readers thought here

 

 

 

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633 Books and a Healthy Outlook

Wild

I obviously didn’t sleep as much as I should have this year and had very little of what most would call ‘a life’. There are a couple of days left, but let’s call it like a rained out baseball game- 633 books, at least 184,651 pages (some audiobooks don’t have a print version) and a healthier Gwen.

What turned the corner for my attitude this year was a series of subtle changes and finally, grabbing the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle in September.  I’ve had issues for years, but they were messy issues that were hard to put into words and get across to the people that might have been able to help. After decades of trying and failing, I found someone that was able to put a label on those issues and even better, ready to teach me the tools to conquer them.

One of the things that I was inspired to do was to really take a more proactive approach to my physical health. Like take an honest account of how much physical activity I actually did, stop blaming genes for why I was skeletal and explore ways to make me more comfortable with what I put in and on my body. It was a sort of re-making of Gwen and it was damn time.

So while I read and listened to books trying to keep the demons at bay, I also grabbed a fitness tracker, made changes to my diet, explored (okay, researched to death) the sustainability and eco-friendliness of the products I use, and more. Coffee and Diet Coke no longer have me in their grips and Soap Nuts replaced regular detergent, for example.

The last thing that I really wanted to learn was about essential oils. Yes, they are all the rage right now, I know, but they had been on my radar for years thanks to being an armchair herbalist for over a decade now. The Healthy Living Bundle was a boon for that for a bunch of reasons and the biggest one was the Essential Oils & Natural Health course from Vintage Remedies. This class alone was $95 and the whole bundle was just $30.  This isn’t one of those simple ecourses where you get an email everyday and a nice print out. Vintage Remedies has a whole online system with private audio, video, tests and the whole nine yards that you can take at your own pace.  It was as well thought out, even better really, than the online classes I have taken from the local colleges. It gave me so much confidence that I took what I learned and made all of my Christmas gifts and tailored them to each persons individual needs.

I obviously could go on for years, but wanted to shout from the rooftops what a great resource this whole bundle was. You might be the type that is making health-related  resolutions this week and this would be one way to take that on as well. There is so much included that I haven’t even gotten through all of the books yet!

So, the bundle is being offered again for just today and tomorrow and yes, I am now an affiliate so I am going to give you that link. There are things that blogger link to to make money and this one has been different for me personally. It isn’t just a book that I liked or a product that I believe in, it is something that actually was a big part of the smile on my face these days, changed my whole outlook and is a great value no matter what aspect of healthy living you subscribe to.

Here goes,

There are more details via the link, but as with everything …if I try to describe it, we would be here all flipping day:)

(I will just have to go on about the year in books later)

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The Great New Orleans Kidnapping Case: Race, Law, and Justice in the Reconstruction Era by Michael A. Ross

New Orleans

In 1870, New Orleans and Reconstruction had it so right and the best example of this I have ever come across is this case and this book. I wanted to cry; not because there was a kidnapping, but because for a few shining moments, our country was trying so hard to live the ideal of freedom and justice for all.

Two African American women kidnapped wee Mollie Digby from her front yard in June of 1870. I say African American, however at the time they were called many things, some nice and some that are derogative now. It may seem strange to us now, the “N” word was seldom one of them. We tend to look at the American South as rabid racists in the late 1800’s. New Orleans was different though. It was special and in many ways a utopian sort of place where people of different races and nationalities lived side by side and often mixed and mingled. There were slaves pre-war, so it wasn’t perfect.

New Orleans had a long history as a French Colony before the US made their little ‘ole Louisiana Purchase and the French had always had a better attitude about race than most countries, way ahead of their time. There was this idea of Creoles; French Creoles, Afro-Creole, Louisiana Creole, etc.  The precious gift of New Orleanians was that they were all Creoles. They all got along and for the most part, it looks like it was copasetic until the war or really after the war…or really until people that didn’t understand the concept of Creole moved on in after the war and tried to shape New Orleans based on their old fears and belief systems. If what I am trying to say is coming out like a hot mess, it’s because my thoughts get all muddled and well, it was a hot mess at the time.

Half of the population of New Orleans jumped on this kidnapping because it was two African Americans and the other half were busy trying to use it to show that Reconstruction was working. The problem is that it was the media that was doing the hating and people pay attention when the news shoves crazy stories in their faces all day-all the time. (much like now) The Republicans that really believed in Reconstruction and supported equality got it a bit muddled as well. Instead of finding dear Mollie Digby, they were busy attempting to prove a point and that never works well.

What matters is that for one brief shining moment Justice was truly blind and fair. It was hard won, never assured, and probably the last time that African Americans got a fair shake in a courtroom for decades, but it happened. The story of it is glorious and heart breaking and will make you mad and will make you look back at the political parties and what they stood for and a million other things.

And then, that other political party got busy, there were black codes and Jim Crow then the KKK drew members like a dead skunk in the road draws maggots and it all went to hell for way too long.

An amazing book about a not so amazing crime that highlights not only the great New Orleans culture, but a time when everything and anything was possible.

{Insert apology here because I get really worked up whenever one of the two R’s comes up, Racism & Rape. Those are things that shouldn’t be happening and there is no valid excuse or for them other than ignorance and hate. Not acceptable.}

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Flesh and Blood by Patricia Cornwell (Scarpetta #22)

flesh

Repeat after me, “I am lucky that I’m not Kay Scarpetta.  I’m also lucky that I am not one of her friends or family members.”

First things first, have you heard of The Reading Room? They gave me this book, so deserve a mention. Think of it as more all-about-books than that other booksite out there that will-not-be-named. I like that while it does have a social component, it is far from all about that. The design is super clean with pleasing colors and blogs are presented so seamlessly. Two things that have always seemed a waste to me on that other site is that a huge chunk of above the fold space is taken up with the social stuff that I don’t care much about and that blog feeds look worse than RTF.  The staff of The Reading Room is small and totally approachable and that is a boon when you trying to get help or interact with them for another reason.  I like it, check ‘em out will ya? Look for Cybergwen.

Back to Flesh and Blood with Kay Scarpetta…I’m starting to have a love/hate relationship with Patricia Cornwell and her character, Kay. Well, with Cornwell it really started with Portrait of a Killer because as I have mentioned before, everyone has their pet theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper and to finger someone with the evidence we have is, to me, hubris. Scarpetta has always been one of my favorite characters though and I have hung in there.

However, have you ever noticed when after a number of seasons,  TV shows that you love start to get convoluted and silly storylines and you just know that the end is nigh? Ally McBeal pulled the dancing baby out of the hat, but even that didn’t mean that the show would go on forever. The Scarpetta series is getting a serious case of what I will call the “been here, done that’s and we really need you to drink the kool-aid so that you can keep suspending disbelief even though we all no that no one’s life sucks this much” problem.

Without giving real spoilers, Flesh and Blood features a killer that is murdering people and sending subtle messages to Scarpetta, her family, and friends. The relationships and their intense conflicts are really what has always stood out to me in this series and #22 is no disappointment. The bond these characters have is really stunning and Cornwell writes them in such a believable way. I wish that I had friends like that, but being around Kay Scarpetta is once again, mighty dangerous.

And now we go back to repeat after me, “I am really lucky not to be a part of Kay Scarpetta’s life because no matter how great she is as a role model, someone is ALWAYS after her.”

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P.S. Just because it gives my spell and grammar checkers fits, let me type it one more time, Scarpetta. Yup, I’m done now.