25 | MAY | 2019
Selma Ancira (left) and Leo Tolstoy (right) – Photo: EFE/File photo EFE

Mexican to build a multi-faceted portrait of Tolstoy

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Selma Ancira sets to write the biography of the Russian writer based on the testimonies of the people who knew him

Mexican philologist and expert on Slavic languages, Selma Ancira will undertake in the next few years, the ambitious project of building a multi-faceted biography of Leo Tolstoy based on the testimonies of writers, painters, politicians, friends, and relatives of the writer.

During an interview with EFE, Ancira, considered the greatest translator of Russian literature into Spanish – who lives in Barcelona since 1988 – explains that she still ignores “how many books will become part of this collective portrait of Tolstoy.”

This biography, to be comprised by several volumes, will accompany the publication in Spanish of Tolstoy's best works: “It's said in Russia that Tolstoy's three greatest novels were 'War and Peace',' Anna Karenina', and his own life, and these works to be published by Acantilado [publishing comapy] will help get Spanish speaking readers closer to this third greatest novel.”


                                                                   (File photo/EL UNIVERSAL)

In fact, Ancira has already published an intimate portrait of Tolstoy, back when she published the translation of the writer's letters and diaries – a work that took her ten years. “He wanted to write a self-portrait; because Tolstoy applied a lot of pressure on what he wanted, he painted himself."

The collective narration began a few months ago with three testimonies, that of Sergei Petrovich Arbuzov, a servant of the Tolstoys, composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and American journalist George Kennan.

In the second volume, Ancira will explore the memories of Dushan Makovitski, the family's physician, Illya Tolstoy, the writer's second son, Leonid Pasternak, the painter, and the theater director Konstantin Stanislavsky, as well as the writers Alexandr Kuprin, Liubov Gurevich and Leonid Andreyev.

Ancira says that in the case of Tolstoy, “fiction and reality are intertwined” and says, as an example of her claim, that Tolstoy's wife once spoke about how Tolstoy asked for her hand in marriage “and that proposal is the same Tolstoy paints in 'Anna Karenina'.”

“It's like a mosaic in which each testimony is a tile of the larger picture that portrays Tolstoy the person, not Tolstoy the writer,” says Ancira.

The philologist, who is conducting her research thanks to a scholarship granted by Mexico, confesses she finds the work enjoyable.

“It's not only the opportunity of putting together this puzzle, it's because Tolstoy is unpredictable: he learnt Hebrew, he learnt how to ride a bicycle at age 66, he learnt Greek to read Homer, he learnt how to be a cobbler from a cobbler, as if he had to combine intellectual and manual work.”


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