The annual meeting of descendants of Lev Tolstoy recently took place at the writer’s familial estate, Yasnaya Polyana. More than 100 people came from all over the world to participate in this traditional gathering of one of the world’s most illustrious literary families. The descendants meet every summer to ride horses, drink tea and talk about their great ancestor.
Marta doesn’t look like she belongs at Yasnaya Polyana. She has an Italian last name — Albertini — and looks like a true daughter of Italy. She lives in Orvieto, a small Italian town about 100 kilometers from Rome. But she is, in fact, a great-granddaughter of Lev Tolstoy. One of the writer’s daughters, Tatyana, married Mikhail Sukhotin and gave birth to another Tatyana, Marta’s mother. “My mother was brought up practically without a father, because my grandmother married a widower,” Marta said in an interview with The Moscow Times.
“Sukhotin was twenty years older than Tatyana Tolstaya, but it was really a marriage of love. Lev Tolstoy was against this marriage, because he was always jealous of his daughters. He was not an easy person. But the couple got married in 1899 and Sukhotin died of a heart attack in 1914. In fifteen years she had five stillborn children because of an incompatibility of blood type. My mother was born in 1905, and she was always called ‘l’enfant du miracle.’ She soaked up this adoration. There are so many photos of her with Lev Nikolayevich [Tolstoy]. She was really very beloved.”
Marta has been coming to Yasnaya Polyana for decades.“At one point Russia was a country that was just there. But nobody [from my family] would visit it. We never went to Russia. Then my mother received an invitation from the U.S.S.R. Ministry of Culture and came to visit in early 1970s with my brother. She went for several more visits, and I came with her in 1979.”
By that time Marta was already 42 years old. “It was a shock. I felt Italian, even though I knew that there was this other half of me in my blood. I don’t exactly know what I felt. I didn’t feel Russian at all. I felt more French. We went to Yasnaya Polyana and I saw Tolstoy’s grave for the first time and, of course, it made a great impression on me. And the countryside, all those woods — it’s so big! But of course, we weren’t free to move around, so it was a bit difficult.”