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The new book from the critically acclaimed author of The Wives and ?Sophia Tolstoy sheds light on one of the strangest and most unusual relationships in literary history—which has been steeped in secrecy for more than a century.
On the snowy morning of February 8, 1897, the Petersburg secret police were following Tolstoy's every move. At sixty-nine, Russia's most celebrated writer was being treated like a major criminal. Prominent Russians were always watched, but Tolstoy earned particular scrutiny. Over a decade earlier, when his advocacy on behalf of oppressed minorities angered the Orthodox Church and the Tsar, he was placed under permanent police surveillance. Although Tolstoy was wearing his peasant garb, people on the streets had no trouble recognizing him from his portraits. He was often seen in the company of his chief disciple, Vladimir Chertkov. A man of striking appearance, twenty-five years younger, Chertkov commanded attention. His photographs with Tolstoy show him towering over the writer, but who exactly was this imposing man? Close to the Tsars and to the chief of the secret police, Chertkov represented the very things Tolstoy had renounced ––class privilege, unlimited power, and wealth. Yet, Chertkov fascinated and attracted Tolstoy. He became the writer's closest confidant, even reading his daily diary, and by the end of Tolstoy's life, Chertkov had established complete control over the writer and his legacy. Tolstoy’s full exchange with Chertkov comprises more than 2,000 letters, making him the writer’s largest correspondent. The Russian archives have suppressed much of this communication as well as Chertkov’s papers for more than a century. The product of ground-breaking archival research, Tolstoy's False Disciple promises to be a revelatory portrait of the two men and their three-decade-long clandestine relationship.
Alexandra Popoff is the author of the award-winning biography Sophia Tolstoy: A Biography. She has written for Russian national newspapers and magazines in Moscow and, as an Alfred Friendly Press Fellow, published articles in The Philadelphia Inquirer and its Sunday magazine. She has also contributed to The Huffington Post and The Boston Globe. Popoff lives in Canada where she obtained post-graduate degrees in Russian and English literature.
“Ms. Popoff’s Tolstoy’s False Disciple ought to be seen as the bookend to her biography of Sophia: Having earlier set out to resurrect the reputation of Tolstoy’s wife, she has now set out to bury the reputation of the man considered to have been Tolstoy’s most ardent follower. Revelatory and deeply disturbing. Chertkov’s baleful influence has been noted by others before, but Ms. Popoff’s book is the most damning indictment to date.” Wall Street Journal
“Popoff, who had exclusive access to Chertkov’s letters to Tolstoy, constructs a narrative of a toxic, controlling friendship, in which Chertkov manipulated Tolstoy for his own gain and damaged the aging author’s fragile relationships with his family. Popoff deftly interweaves archival and secondary sources.” The New Yorker
“Popoff draws on long unavailable archival materials, including Chertkov's letters to examine the relationship that tore apart Tolstoy's family and threatened his literary legacy. Chertkov's motives may have gone beyond greed, obsession or love of fame. How could the author of some of the world's most psychologically penetrating fiction fall in love with a third-rate con man?” The New York Times Book Review
“The strange tangled story of the friendship — perhaps love is a better word — between Tolstoy and Vladimir Chertkov has engaged, tantalized, and befuddled biographers and lovers of Tolstoy for a century or more. It’s a riveting tale of discipleship and betrayal, with many sides to every point. The mysteries have, to a wonderful degree, been explored in detail with a great deal of fresh evidence by Alexandra Popoff, a brilliant biographer and Russian scholar. I admire her work here immensely.” Jay Parini, author of "The Last Station"
“Popoff’s Tolstoy’s False Disciple ought to be seen as the bookend to her biography of Sophia: Having earlier set out to resurrect the reputation of Tolstoy’s wife, she has now set out to bury the reputation of the man considered to have been Tolstoy’s most ardent follower. Revelatory and deeply disturbing.” The Wall Street Journal
“Popoff, who had exclusive access to Chertkov’s letters to Tolstoy, constructs a narrative of a toxic, controlling friendship, in which Chertkov manipulated Tolstoy for his own gain and damaged the aging author’s fragile relationships with his family.” New Yorker
“An impressive work of seminal archival research and scholarship. A profound and invaluable contribution for students of Tolstoy's life and work. Exceptionally well written, organized and presented.” Midwest Book Review
“Popoff’s writing flows with narrative ease, smoothly integrating historical data including information from memoirs written by friends, along with brief summaries of Tolstoy’s original writings alongside Chertkov’s alterations. Thanks to scholars and researchers like Popoff, much of Tolstoy’s original works can now be restored.” Author Link
“Well-researched. The book is fascinating—and it fills a gap, providing the first full account of the bizarre relationship between a great man and his 'moral antipode.'” Publishers Weekly
“A well-written, polemical view of Tolstoy’s self-appointed vicar on earth.” The Spectator (UK)