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Thursday, July 19, 2007

My Favourite Short Story-5 : 'How Much Land Does A Man Need' by Leo Tolstoy

"How Much Land Does a Man Need? is an 1886 short story by Leo Tolstoy about a man who, in his lust for land, forfeits everything, including his own life. Late in life, James Joyce called it the greatest short story ever written.

After slowly accumulating more and more property, a greedy Russian named Pahom hears that the Bashkirs, a minority race in Russia, are practically giving their land away. He decides to visit them and they offer him as much land as he wants, provided he can walk its perimeter in one day. Pahom agrees and goes out on his trek, but when the sun starts to set, he finds he has walked too far. Running back, Pahom collapses at the starting point just as the sun disappears behind the horizon. The Bashkirs try to congratulate him, only to find him dead. In answer to the question posed in the title, the Bashkirs bury him in a hole six feet long by two feet wide.

Anton Chekhov, one of Tolstoy's greatest admirers, retorted: "It is a common saying that a man needs only six feet of earth. But six feet is what a corpse needs, not a man... Man needs not six feet of earth, not a farm, but the whole globe, all of nature, where unhindered he can display all the capacities and peculiarities of his free spirit." (Wikipedia)

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