Monday, March 5, 2012

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Just the title alone should drive you to pick up this book! I can't remember when I joyfully stumbled upon Nina Sankovitch's blog but I do recall being "pea green with envy." To think that this young woman had the time and privilege to sit down and read a book a day for a year drove me to distraction. And then, to get a memoir of her reading year published? Why didn't I think of that? And, would anyone have cared? What a gimmick! Kind of reminded me of Julie and Julia.

Except that, rather than being a gimmick, it evolved into therapy of the very best kind and the book that came from the experiment is a delight to behold in every way. Ms. Sankovitch reminds me of a younger version of myself, at least in her politics and reading choices. And who isn't egotistical enough to admit that they can't help but love someone who reflects their own tastes? Come on, you know it's true.

Nina Sankovitch, mother of four boys, retired attorney, writer, had watched her older revered sister, Anne- Marie, die of a rare form of cancer at the shockingly young age of 49. Nina found that she couldn't move past her grief and was plagued by survivor's guilt. She resolved to seek answers and solace in reading. The result is a gorgeously written memoir, a paean to her family, especially to her fantastically interesting parents who escaped to the United States from Poland after the second world war.

But this book is also a reflection on the healing power of the written word. Anyone who is reading this blog most likely already subscribes to this notion; we are librarians, writers, and readers who put authors on a pedestal. Ms. Sankovitch eloquently interprets the works of the world's finest writers and some you may not have heard of. In fact, I read her book with a pad and pencil next to me so that I could jot down titles I knew I'd have to check out when I finally get to my own "year of reading dangerously."

From the first title, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, to the final, Spooner, Nina Sankovitch credits writers with reminding us that we are all a part of the universal condition. As John Donne said, "No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind...." Donne's words were read at my mother's funeral. They could have been read at Anne-Marie's memorial for all I know. They reflect the way that Nina grew to accept that the best way to remember and honor a loved one who has died is to be fully alive to the glorious life that we have.


Emma said...

thanks for your great review. I also lOVED this book! see my review:

Sallyb said...

Hi Emma, It's lovely to hear from you and know that I've gained a new reader. I have bookmarked your blog - love the name - and will keep up with you regularly. So sorry you're not still in France as I'm such a Francophile. You might enjoy my entry on the book French Dirt: It was posted on Dec. 28th, 2011