Tatyana Tolstaya was born in Leningrad into one of the city’s most distinguished literary families. She is the great-grandniece of Lev Tolstoy and the granddaughter of the writer, dramatist, and poet Aleksei Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1883–1945), best known for his trilogy about the Revolution, Road to Calvary,* begun while he was temporarily an émigré in Berlin. Though he had initially been an outspoken opponent of Bolshevism, Aleksei Tolstoy returned to the Soviet Union in 1923 and became one of the very few Russians to maintain a nobleman’s life-style while successfully demonstrating his ‘loyalty’ to the new state: so successfully, indeed, that he was appointed Chairman of the USSR Writers’ Union after Gorky’s death and won several Stalin Prizes for his work. Aleksei’s wife was the poet Natalya Krandiyevskaya, herself from a literary family, while Tolstaya’s maternal grandfather, as she relates in the interview that follows, was the distinguished translator Mikhail Lozinsky, whose friends included the poets Anna Akhmatova and Nikolai Gumilyov.
These literary antecedents seem worth mentioning not just for curiosity’s sake, but because they perhaps help to explain the sense Tolstaya’s work exudes of connection with the past and of aristocratic disdain for (or plain indifference to) the claims of the Soviet state. Tolstaya was born into a family of seven children—itself an anachronism in the hungry post-war years—and grew up in Leningrad, entering Leningrad State University in 1968 to read, unfashionably, Latin and Greek. After graduating in 1974, she married a fellow linguist (they went on to have two sons) and moved with her husband to Moscow, taking a job in the Oriental literature department of Nauka publishing house.
Tolstaya began writing only in January 1983, following an eye operation which meant that she was temporarily forbidden to read. In any case, she was bored with the literature she found in the current journals and felt that she could write
* Khozhdeniye po mukam, 1920–41.