When Nina Sankovitch lost her elder sister Anne-Marie to stomach cancer, she also lost the person with whom she most regularly shared new books and authors. Sankovitch, her two sisters, and her brother were lucky to have grown up in a home in which books were so appreciated, but now one of them would be missing from the conversation. It was only after three years of living life at a frantic pace in which she tried to live both for herself and for Anne-Marie that Sankovitch finally decided to try something different in order to deal with her grief. She would read a book per day for the next 365 days – and she would spend two or three hours writing a formal review of each and every one of those books. Believe it or not, she did it - Tolstoy and the Purple Chair tells us how she managed it and what she gained in the process.
From the beginning, Sankovitch set a few firm rules for herself:
· She would read only one book per author,
· She would not re-read any books she had already read,
· She would limit her choices to books that were no more than one inch thick, ensuring that they would, for the most part, be in the range of 250-300 pages each,
· And she would only read the kind of books she and Anne-Marie would have likely enjoyed together if her sister were still alive.
In Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, Nina Sankovitch devotes time to Anne-Marie’s story, to what it was like growing up in her family, to how she dealt with her sister’s death both before and after beginning her reading year, and to many of the 365 books she read that year. Reading enthusiasts will be intrigued by the book choices that Sankovitch made during the year, as well as by how often, and how regularly, she was able to find something in those books that spoke to her personally about the grieving process. Readers seeking new ideas about dealing with the grief associated with the loss of a family member are likely to be equally enthusiastic about the Tolstoy and the Purple Chair because Sankovitch is frank and open about her own experiences following Anne-Marie’s death – starting with the question that so often haunted her: “Why do I deserve to live?”
Coming in to her year of reading, Sankovitch knew exactly how lucky she was that her family was willing to support her effort to find comfort through such a time-consuming project. As she says in the book’s second chapter:
“For years, books had offered me a window into how other people deal with life, its sorrows and joys and monotonies and frustrations. I would look there again for empathy, guidance, fellowship, and experience. Books would give me all that, and more…I was trusting books to answer the relentless question of why I deserved to live. And how I should live. My year of reading would be my escape back into life.”
She found what she was searching for.