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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tolstoy Couple Returns For New War, No Peace

Leo Tolstoy this week joined an exclusive literary group that includes Margaret Mitchell, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Mikhail Sholokhov. These diverse authors share the honor of having a sequel to their most famous novels written by a Russian.

For Tolstoy, the sequel is to "War and Peace" and is called "Pierre and Natasha" (Pier i Natasha), a two-volume follow-up written by an unidentified author under the pseudonym of Vasily Staroi. It will be available in bookstores by the end of the month and translation rights have already been sold in innumerable countries, from the United States to South Korea.

"Natasha and Pierre" is a high-quality historical romance. Not only does this book satisfy one's curiosity -- whatever happened to Natasha Rostova and Pierre Bezukhov 10 years after "War and Peace" ended? -- but it is much better written than most sequels.

The sequel begins in the summer of 1825 when Natasha discovers her husband Pierre is involved with a group of noblemen who are plotting against Tsar Alexander I. The tsar is aware of this revolutionary activity, but chooses to ignore it. The novelist exploits a famous historical legend which says the tsar, believing that 25 years in power was more than enough, is anxious to give up his royal duties. Staroi skillfully paints the psychological portrait of an emperor who is ready to stage his death and move to Siberia to live incognito as old Kuzmich.

The sweeping historical narrative of "Pierre and Natasha" takes in Alexander I's death in the small Russian town of Taganrog, the battle for succession between Alexander's two brothers Konstantin and Nicholas, and the revolt on Dec. 14, 1825, in St. Petersburg (which led to this group of anti-monarchists being called the Decembrists). That's all in the course of the first volume. The first volume ends, just as "War and Peace" does, with a philosophical discourse on the nature of history.

The second volume covers the events of 1826. The trial of the Decembrists is in progress and the new tsar, Nicholas I, is presiding over events almost in the capacity of chief criminal investigator. While five Decembrists are condemned to death, others are sentenced to up to 20 years of hard labor in exile in Siberia. Such is the fate of Pierre.

The novel ends with Natasha's letters home from Siberia. Giving up the comforts of the capital and the privileges of nobility, Natasha has joined Pierre in his icy exile and become one of the celebrated Decembrist's wives.

But "Pierre and Natasha" is not simply a fictionalized account of the Decembrist Revolt. It is a family saga with a huge cast of characters who range from noblemen to peasants, from merchants to sailors.

Staroi has sensibly not tried to copy Tolstoy's inimitable style. Instead, he has written an imaginative and highly readable historical romance. Reading about characters who were first created by Leo Tolstoy only adds to the pleasure.

"Natasha and Pierre" by Vasily Staroi, Vagrius, about 40,000 rubles ($8).