People deal with loss in a myriad of ways. Some may turn to religion to try to understand why they are alive and the other has died. Others may turn inward to reassess their priorities in life. But there is nothing like the comfort of things shared with the person you’ve lost to help you not only come to terms with their death, but reflect on the influence that loved one has had on nearly every aspect of your life. That’s what Nina Sankovitch does in her memoir Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.
Imagine reading a book a day for an entire year. Better still think of the implications if you are raising four sons. Yes, your husband is there to help and you have family members to rely on, still reading can be a time consuming experience. To add further pressure you decide to blog about every book you’ve read, practically on the day of finishing it. Sankovitch chronicles her year of “magical reading” in a deeply personal and intimate look of her love for her eldest sister (who died from a form of cancer), her parents (who have lived complex lives of their own) and as the youngest in a family of three girls where does she fit in.
Memoirs tend to be interesting looks into the lives of people who have come to a crossroads and feel compelled to share with the world. Sankovitch takes this genre and demands it to do more than just give the reader tidbits on life. Essentially every book Sankovitch discusses is tied with deep questions that penetrate to the point of hitting raw nerves. In her “purple chair” she discovers those answers and shares them with her audience.
As Sankovitch interweaves her family’s story and her grief into her theories on a plethora of texts, the reader is invited to engage in the conversation – whether it be the familiarity with an author, or perhaps discovering a new one.
Still at the core of this work is Sankovitch’s love for her sister and as different as these two might have been, the one thing they had in common was and is a love of reading. Perhaps that is what keeps this work from feeling like an encyclopedia.
Peering into the heart of an author exposes a great deal about the reader. What will make you pick up this work may be the title or the cover, but what you discover between those pages might just be a greater understanding of yourself.