The Last Station, By Jay Parini

One may not have thought that the last days of a 19th-century Russian writer, decrepit with age, described from the point of view of his histrionic wife of 50 years, his disciple, assistant and doctor, all fighting over his estate, would be the stuff of popular historical fiction.

But this book about Leo Tolstoy not only works through its beautifully written prose and its palimpsest of personal accounts which present a picture of a bearded, vegetarian eccentric "friend of the peasants". Its popular appeal has led to a film adaptation, starring Helen Mirren, and currently on release. The film has a lot to live up to, given the immense strength of the book on which it is based.

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