Merlin scholar Nikolai Tolstoy willnsoon go to trial to defend charges henhas made that the Macmillan governmentnparticipated in atrocities innAustria in 1945.nalthough they became increasingly dissatisfying.n”So then I began to readnhistory. And I went to the othernextreme — the more footnotes pernpage, the happier I was. But when Inwas reading these works and doing thisnscholarship, which still delights me,nand is my major delight, I can see that Inwas in a way writing my own historicalnnovel, because in my mind picturesnformed of the past.”nTolstoy pursued Celtic studies atnTrinity College, Dublin (learning .nWelsh and Irish to study the earlynsources), and it was then that he begannwriting a book on 5 th- and 6th-centurynBritain. “My great work, as it wasnsupposed to be, was started when I wasnstill at university. It was going to be thenmightiest novel of all time, but it wasnvery bad.” He worked on it for yearsnuntil “this manuscript, which was a sortnof summation of everything I’d workednfor, was literally burnt in a fire,” whennhis 17th-century Welsh farmhousenburned to the ground. “That was almostnGod taking me by the hand andn54/CHRONICLESnsaying, ‘Everything you’re doing isnwrong. It’s not wrong that you wish tondo this thing, but you are going about itnin the wrong way.’ All that was savednwere the source books I had to have tonwork on it again. But in essence itndestroyed what needed destroying andnset me up again, which was astonishing.n”And then really by chance I wasncaught up into this business of forcednrepatriation.” At the end of World WarnII, thousands of Soviet citizens fled thenSoviet Union, only to be forced backnby the British and Americans as a resultnof the Yalta agreement. The repatriatesnwere then exterminated or sent tonSoviet labor camps. “The material wasnabsolutely fascinating, but when thenbook was finished it was very bad. Itnwas written in a grotesquely intemperatenstyle, because I was so agitatednabout the subject. But I luckily had anvery good editor and he just told me,n’You’ve got to reduce this book about anthird.’ I was furious at the time, but Insomehow did it. Then luckily the bookn{Victims of Yalta) was so successful,nthat then I was suddenly in at the deepnend, and had no problem finding publishers.”nHe wrote a biography of ThomasnPitt and several other books on thenSoviet Union, but, he says, “At thentime, I wasn’t satisfied with what I wasndoing.” And then he wrote The Tolstoys:nTwenty-Four Generations ofnRussian History.nHis is no ordinary family. The recordsnstart in the 14th century, butn”tolstoy” (which means “fat”) wasn’tnused till the 15th, when a Muscovitenprince awarded it as a nickname.nIn 1718, Privy Councillor Peter Tolstoynwas compelled by Tsar Peter thenGreat to arrange the secret death of thentsar’s son, Aleksey, who cursed thenTolstoy family to the 25th generation,nsaying there would be madmen andnidiots in every generation as well asnindividuals of exceptional ability.nCertainly it’s been an unusually energeticnand eccentric family. One reverednTolstoy general went into battle .nin the Napoleonic wars accompanied ‘nby three fully-grown pet bears, whichnalso ate at his table and traveled in ancarriage.nFyodor Ivanovitch Tolstoy had himselfntattooed from head to foot on anPacific island (where he trained thennnking to crawl at his side and rush intonthe ocean after a stick whenever hencried “Fetch!”). When he began incitingnthe ship’s crew to mutiny, thencaptain abandoned him on a desertednisland, where he became lost, but had anvision of St. Spyridon which directednhim to safety. Years later, he attracted anship, walked across Siberia, and took upnhis career again in Moscow as a duelistnand card cheat. He distinguished himselfnin two wars, married the gypsynmistress who’d kept him from killingnhimself over his gambling debts, becamenextremely devout, and finallynstopped cheating at cards. His childrenndied at an alarming rate, and he took toncarrying a list of the 11 men he’d killednin duels, so that as each child died atnbirth or in infancy, he crossed oflF anname and wrote “quits.” When theneleventh child died and the twelfth wasnborn, he said, “Now, thank God, mynlittle gypsy maid can live.” Which shendid, unlike the rest.nOther Tolstoys were less flamboyant,becomingnstate councillors and governorsnand cabinet ministers, while onenwas the greatest painter of his generation.nAleksey Konstantinovich was anlyric poet, and playwright who drovennails into walls with his palms, while hisncousin. Lev Nikolayevich (whom wenknow as Leo) could lift 180 poundsnwith one hand.nLike many Tolstoys, Leo, the authornof War and Peace, Anna Karenina,nand The Cossacks, was driven by intensensexual desire, and while he camento endorse celibacy as the enlightenednpath, he couldn’t live by his precepts,nbestowing 13 children on his longsufferingnwife. He ultimately rejectednmaterial possessions and all the institutionsnof man, developing his own idiosyncraticninterpretation of the Biblenand living on his country estate asnmuch like his peasants as possible.nHis cousin was raised totally apartnfrom the family, and yet Aleksey Nikolayevichncame to be revered for hisnnoble antecedents. Even Stalin callednhis pet aristocrat “Count,” perhaps innappreciation of the literary underpinningsnA.N. provided the Revolution innthe 30’s and 40’s. He became an artncollector and gourmand, who entertainednlavishly in his Moscow andnLeningrad mansions as well as thencountry estates the party also provided,nand who exhorted all Russians to dien