Book Review: How Much Land Does A Man Need?

By Leo Tolstoy

Published by Penguin Books

ISBN 978-0-14-139774-0 Price £1

Despite being only 21 pages long, Leo Tolstoy’s 1886 parable How Much Land Does A Man Need? is a classic. This point is made clear not only by it being included in the Penguin Little Black Classics series, but the book’s back cover informs us that even Ulysses author, James Joyce, considered this the world’s greatest story.

I found Tolstoy’s famed Russian parable an easy read and an excellent introduction to the man who also penned War and Peace.  This book is largely down to the shared themes detailed in another, more famous story. How Much Land Does A Man Need? is a modern adaptation of the Old Testament’s Adam and Eve story—this time set in Russia.

At the beginning of Tolstoy’s story an older, wealthier sister visits her peasant sister in the country. The two siblings argue who has the better life. The older sibling represents the snake in the Garden of Eden. And, like the snake, her task is to seduce a simple woman with promises of an alternative and better life beyond her familiar sanctuary.

The protagonist, Pakhom, sides with his peasant wife and tells his sister-in-law his only grievance is a lack of land! However, over the next few years he rises from peasant to landowner but finds he is not content with his new status. Subsequently, Pakhom leaves his simple surroundings (i.e. the Garden of Eden) in pursuit of rewards in faraway lands. Our protagonist finds that once he leaves the safety of the country, just like Adam and Eve, he becomes mortal. Alas, this is evidenced in his lack of strength to complete the ill-fated task agreed with the Bashkirs. Ultimately, sin in the form of greed, encouraged by his wife, leads to Pakhom’s demise.

Almost two centuries after it was written, Tolstoy’s book still stands the test of time. It reminds mankind that the love of money is the root of all evil and that he is the architect of his own eventual downfall.  For a small sum of just one pound this is an excellent story to remind ourselves that in the end, we all have enough of what we actually need.

By Nigel Gordon

00:29 7th April 2017

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