War And Peace
- Wordsworth Editions Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 01 July 1993
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I am no longer afraid of the big ass Russian novel.<b>*</b> Who knew it would be so readable? The most difficult thing about it was keeping all of the characters straight, but even that was only in the beginning. By the end of the book, the characters were so fully drawn that I couldn't believe that I'd once had to rely on a cheat sheet remember who they were or what relation they had to one another.<br/><br/>I'm kind of peeved that I can't give this book 5 stars**. Overall, I thought it was fantastic. I even liked the war sections. Well, the "action" war sections that featured our characters, not the "strategy" war sections where Tolstoy basically repeated his views on history and the war over and over and over again. That and the second epilogue kept me from being completely enamored. Come on, Leo! End it with a bang, not a whimper! <br/><br/>By the way, I'm totally <spoiler>Team Andrei</spoiler>. <br/><br/><br/><br/><b>*</b>Or the big ass French novel, for that matter. I'm still kind of scared of the big ass American novel (looking at you, Herman "whale anatomy" Melville), and I sometimes have PTSD-like flashbacks from my monthlong run in with the big ass Irish novel (you know who you are, James "snotgreen<br/>scrotumtightening sea" Joyce).<br/><br/>**Give me a year and I will forgive you for your whimper of an ending. This book was pretty freaking amazing.
A 1,400 page book that never lost my interest. The characters, each with their own stories, really had an impact on me. This translation was also excellent. Little footnotes are at the bottom explaining some old Russian customs and celebrations. I found this very useful. Tolstoy's finest work in my opinion.
This book does two things.<br/><br/>First, it tells a sweeping saga of four interrelated Russian families before, during, and after Napoleon's invasion of Russia, covering the years 1805-1820. You could say that in a way it's the template for the later American novel Gone With the Wind. But the latter book is much more of a potboiler. Tolstoy's book is much more psychologically complex and realistic. Not only in terms of knowing what makes people tick, but in terms of showing how irrational, fickle, and foolish we can be. The big-hearted Pierre is one of the most lovable characters you'll meet in literature, as is the initially tomboyish Natasha. But they are only two of the hundreds of characters you'll meet. Also worthy of mention is the ne'er-do-well Dolokhov, who for all his cruelty, becomes a real asset to his country in time of war.<br/><br/>Some of the characters are really put through the wringer. Those that reach the very border of life and death find therein an unexpected sense of peace. And upon returning to life as they knew it (if they make it) find a new perspective that enriches them. There's a little of everything here. Battle, politics, society intrigue, bucolic festivities in the countryside, and, to be sure, heart-tugging love stories.<br/><br/>The other thing this book is, is a philosophy text. By saying that, I don't want to scare you off, but peppered throughout the book are sections where Tolstoy tells you how he feels about the "great man" theory of history, reserving especial scorn for Napoleon, who he characterizes less as a military genius than a very lucky, and very spoiled man-child. The last hundred pages of the book (the second epilogue) are a treatise, where Tolstoy tears down various theories of history and the concept of free will. He calls for a unified theory of history, which would explain both large bodies (nations and mass movements) and individuals, explaining their actions in the context of their time, place and circumstances rather than dwelling on freely made decisions, which he doesn't believe in. This last section reminded me a lot of Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, and made me wonder how much Tolstoy influenced Asimov's creation of Hari Seldon, the great fictional psycho-historian and predictor of future events.<br/><br/>Seriously, a book club could spend a month of meetings on this book. I haven't even touched on other things in it, such as religion, freemasonry, the French Revolution, and Tolstoy's idea of an ideal marriage. I could go on and on.
Closing the final page of my beautiful edition of this great epic was one of those moments when feelings of joy and sorrow are so closely aligned. As I had journeyed nearer the conclusion the more I became aware of the nagging in the back of my mind. I didn’t want it to end and the questions - what will I read next, how can any book I read in the future follow this experience? Now, of course that may well seem rather melodramatic to you dear reader as it does to me as I write in the cold clear light of day. There are many many readers who read many great authors and their satisfaction of one does not diminish the other. But this was a very real thought to me as I travelled through this book. How can any other book I ever read live up to what I experienced over the last month?To even begin to contemplate giving such a work a star rating seems highly inappropriate - let alone even begin to write a review! This book spoke to me in a myriad of ways as it has for so may others - such is the greatness of the book. I have been left with a very strong desire to encourage others to read this work. Do not shie away from it, persevere through the first part, do not be discouraged. Most of all please do not think that you are in any way not 'good, or clever enough' to enjoy it - it is not an endurance test, a badge of office to be won or a medal winning feat to have read it! Having mildly ranted I have to say I am thrilled that I fulfilled my desire to read it and feel a very contented healthy sense of pride in my success.Should you feel even mildly interested please do contact me as I would be pleased to support you and share resources. If you think you would like to read it along with friends there is a Library Thing group here that has just started. Why not check it out? You will not be disappointed.
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