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Tolstoys stage family reunion

Aug 08, 2002
Francoise Michel

"It's so wonderful to be a Tolstoy," exclaimed Tatyana Tolstoy-Paus, 87, after gingerly stepping off a train that brought her to a glistening glade where her grandfather wrote his most famous works.

The gentle silver-haired Swedish grandchild of a man who penned "Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace," secluding himself in the Russian province, came to celebrate what has been billed as the largest Tolstoy family reunion ever.

Babies and grandmothers, some 80 descendants in all from six countries gathered in Moscow before taking a special train this weekend to Leo Tolstoy's sprawling estate to commemorate the 140th anniversary of his wedding to his beloved Sofia.

Tolstoy, whose works are swept with the graphic realism of romance and an unbending belief in a human being's free will, was born here in 1828 and buried here in 1910, refusing the era's glittering cities in his later years.

A fervent believer in peasants' rights, he was buried in a modest grave without a headstone or cross.

Tolstoy had 13 children, nine of whom survived and eventually led to today's descendants from Sweden, Germany, Britain, France, the United States and the various Russian regions.

Many of the Tolstoys fled Russia, along with much of the day's intelligentsia after the October 1917 revolution, few of them now speaking much Russian at all.

But some hold a gem few other faithful students of Tolstoy can brag about - family memories.

"I talked a lot about my grandfather to my children, I told them how he killed a bear, and I made them read his books," Tolstoy-Paus said in an English heavily accented by Swedish.

And even the younger Tolstoys who never lived here can be proud of their ancestry, said 14-year-old Katherine, from London.

"Because I have such a heritage, I feel privileged. I would probably do more stupid things if I was not a Tolstoy," she said, even if her great-great-great-grandfather might not have approved of her high heels and plunging neckline.

John Lvov, a 47-year-old Franco-American, also stressed the moral obligation of being a descendant of Tolstoy.

"If you are a Tolstoy, you have to be honest and straightforward. Sometimes, I feel as though he is still looking at me from wherever he is," Lvov said.

On the other hand, you do not even have to really know the writer's voluminous works to be a bona-fide Tolstoy, said 26 year-old Michael Uvnas, an Internet developer living in Stockholm.

"I do not know a lot about Leo Tolstoy, I only read a summary of 'War and Peace,'" he said, adding that coming here was the best way for him to learn about the writer.

It seems, you can even pride yourself on being a Tolstoy while flirting with your ancestor's most bitter enemies.

All 80 descendants attended an Orthodox religious service held at Yasnaya Polyana, perhaps forgetting that toward the end of his life, Tolstoy had a brutal falling out with the Russian Orthodox Church, which eventually excommunicated him.

Earlier this year, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexis II refused to relent on the church's decision to convict the writer of heresy a century ago, condemning some of his books as "anti-Orthodox, anti-Christian."

But for all of the Orthodox Church's ongoing hostility, most Russians - from schoolchildren to bureaucrats - revere Tosltoy's.

And this can come in handy for the family, said Lvov, who helped to win exclusive rights for Pepsi Cola - and not its rivals - to sell fizzy soda in the Soviet Union back in 1973, the height of the Brezhnev era.

"I never mentioned my origins, but, of course, my boss used them in negotiations. Russians are extremely moved when you say you are a descendant of Tolstoy," he said.

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