War and Peace

ISBN: 0192833987
ISBN 13: 9780192833983
By: Leo Tolstoy Henry Gifford Aylmer Maude Louise Maude

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About this book

Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed. The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy's portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them. In this revised and updated version of the definitive and highly acclaimed Maude translation, Tolstoy's genius and the power of his prose are made newly available to the contemporary reader.

Reader's Thoughts

Joshua Treviño

It is difficult, in reviewing classics, to say things about them that have not been said before. It is especially difficult when those classics are part of the literary canon; and even more difficult when those classics are not mere novels, but purposeful epics. It is in this light that reviewing Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a challenge. The massive book — ranging from 900 to 1,500 pages, depending upon the edition — is a cornerstone of anyone’s list of all-time great literature. Strangely, few have actually read it; and few reviewers of new editions do more than assess relative merits of the latest translation.Therefore: the one thing the reader ought to know about the new translation of War and Peace from Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is that it is worth reading, both in itself (the book is a classic in any translation) and in this particular form (this translation is superb). As with every other review of this edition, this one must start with what is new about it: the translation.The husband-and-wife team of Pevear and Volokhonsky have built a long and successful career on translating Russian works into English. (I still recommend their translation of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, which kept me company in my Army days, as the best around.) They are ideally suited to the task, not merely by virtue of their marital compatibility — a translating team spends nearly as much time together as a married couple, and probably communicates better — but by virtue of their birth. Volokhonsky, as might be guessed, is a native Russophone, and Pevear’s first language is English. In a column in the New York Times on October 14th, 2007, Pevear described the method of their collaboration:---We work separately at first. Larissa produces a complete draft, following the original almost word by word, with many marginal comments and observations. From that, plus the original Russian, I make my own complete draft. Then we work closely together to arrive at a third draft, on which we make our “final” revisions.---This is, of course, the idealized process. The actual work of conveying literature, with its poetry and rhetoric more or less intact, from one language to another is necessarily slow and inexact. Douglas Hofstadter, the author and professor of computer and cognitive science at Indiana University at Bloomington, addressed this problem at length in his book Le Ton beau de Marot. In this, a rather simple little poem by the 16th-century French poet Clément Marot — "A une damoyselle malade," or "To an ill girl" — is shown to have a surprising number of possible translations from French into English, with none of them quite right. There are dozens of variations in Hofstadter’s book. The necessary tradeoffs, even in Marot’s simple verse, are swiftly evident. Literal accuracy, or rhetorical beauty? Rhyme structure, or metric consistency? Cultural fidelity, or cultural comprehensibility? These are the issues with which translators must contend. The perverse, like Vladimir Nabokov in translating his rigid and un-lovely Eugene Onegin, simply give the reader their ideal of literal exactitude. The more well meaning will often give the reader their idea of comprehensibility in both the rhetorical and cultural spheres. Thus, Constance Garnett, who translated the great works of 19th-century Russian literature into Edwardian-era English, not only rendered prose as would an English novelist of her era: she also “translated” cultural concepts into familiar objects of reference for her intended readers. As a pseudonymous Amazon reviewer of the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace notes, in previous translations, “we often get ‘holy images,’ attended ‘Mass,’ ‘the Virgin Mary,’ etc., instead of ‘icon,’ ‘attended Liturgy,’ or ‘the Theotokos.’” It is pleasing to report that though the occasional clunky passage survives in its over twelve hundred pages, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have done well by War and Peace. And well they should have: as Pevear notes, in translating, they each read the massive work five times.Beyond the translation, there is the great work itself, which presumes to take on the very topics of its title. The grand sweep of its epic, to say nothing of the welter of Russian names and perhaps-unfamiliar places, is daunting to many readers. (Who knows where Mozhaisk is, or why it matters?) They should not feel ashamed of this: the very first sentence of the book presupposes a grasp of European politics and Russian society circa 1805, and the inferences and references never let up. It is a peculiarly Russian work, of course — the French invasion of 1812 was to Tolstoy’s generation what the Civil War was to our grandfathers’ — but it is nonetheless comprehensible to Europeans grounded in their own history. For an American, War and Peace is something else: not an artifact of our own heritage, but a work we read to sustain and deepen our connection to the West at large. Its themes of sacrifice, patriotism, and humanity are universal. Leo Tolstoy was not, it must be said, the master of the human condition that many of the other literary greats were — Shakespeare, for example, or even his contemporary Dostoevsky — and this shows through even in the superlative Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. In life, the great author was keenly interested in developing his own thesis of Christianity, which veered into that curious territory where extreme altruism and profound selfishness intersect. A rare Russian aristocrat who cared for his peasants, he treated his devoted wife with often shocking neglect; he was excommunicated from the Orthodox Church; and he ended up dying at a train station while essentially running away from home as an old man. War and Peace, with its long internal essays on history, fate, and morality, gives us a glimpse into the mind of this troubled and brilliant figure, as his plot and his characters bend to his ideas of life and meaning.Tolstoy was a contemporary of the men whom the philosopher Karl Popper called the historicists — that is, those who believed in the superiority of historical “laws” and inevitability to God-given free will and volition — and he shared much of their thesis. He did not, as some of them did, deny the possibility or relevance of human goodness and choice; but he did believe that those choices only affected a limited context, and mostly concerned one’s internal state toward himself and God. War and Peace, then, is to a large extent a historical exposition on why the individual does not matter to history, even as he does matter to his Creator. A central character of the work, Pierre Bezukhov, undergoes a transformation throughout from dissolute if well-meaning youth, to solid paterfamilias with an assured sense of God and self — and the transformative event is a death march in French captivity, in which he realizes that all is for naught in this world. Similarly, the wartime mistakes of the Russian generalissimo Kutuzov are excused as historical inevitabilities which Kutuzov had the wisdom to accept. Tolstoy’s view here is wholly alien to the American character, and its relation to the Christian view is dubious (certainly the Orthodox Church saw little good in it). It does not follow from this that the Christian should not read it. To the contrary, it is a work so very rich, despite its flaws, that it is endlessly rewarding to those who persevere and allow themselves to become happily entangled in its endless narrative. Is it the best Russian novel? Is it the best Tolstoy novel? Is it the best 19th-century novel? It is none of these things: Tolstoy himself wrote better novels, Anna Karenina chief among them; Zola’s La Debacle is a far superior exposition of battle; and nearly everything is shorter. But we ought to read War and Peace nonetheless. We read it because, like Everest, it is there; we read it to join Prince Andrei on the field at Austerlitz; we read it to enter the mind of the young Natasha, insane with what she believes is love; and we read it because in it, as in all great art, we find something of ourselves.

A.J. Howard

Wow....I should probably just leave it at that. I know that my review of War and Peace is just about the antithesis of necessary. By raving about this book, I'm saying something equivalent to "Michael Jordan was a good basketball player" or "Richard Nixon had a decent amount of issues." This book is not only on the short list of best novels ever, it was there a century before my birth. But, hey, this thing is a beast, and it feels like a real accomplishment finishing it, so I'm going safely deposit my thoughts here rather than pestering my friends and family. First a quick note. I never fully realized the value of a well-done translation before reading this book. So I need to add my endorsement to the cacophony of praise I've seen for Pevear and Volokhonsky. I happened to have a Barnes and Noble Edition that I purchased years ago for comparison purposes. The difference is striking. The public domain translation often appears to be a summary of Tolstoy's writing, while this edition is a translation in the truest sense. It not only translates the text, it translates the writing. Also, the old edition was abridged. Maybe this specific abridgment was particularly chopped up, but it really mangled the thing. With a lot of work that was originally serialized, you can tell that some of the material there is to provide filler for current issue. Here, even the chapters that may not be essential to the narrative or the overall thesis of the novel are essential to the feel of the work. Any abridgment of War and Peace is, nevertheless, going to leave the prospective reader with a tall stack of papers. When it comes down to it, if your going to attempt to tackle this beast, you might as well try to get your arms around this whole thing. You'll be doing yourself a favor. Tolstoy goes on tangents and diversions, but holy shit, he's Leo Fucking Tolstoy, he should have been encouraged write whatever he wants, and there isn't a thing that is not worthwhile. The Pevear and Volokhonsky translation also includes the original French (with English translations in footnotes) where Tolstoy used it. While this may appear to be an unnecessary inconvenience, it serves a definite character and storytelling purpose. Again, it's Count Leo Tolstoy, his choices are somewhat credible. Finally, this edition includes extremely helpful citations to endnotes mostly dealing with historical background and also a historical index that is pretty useful.*I've been aware of War and Peace for a long time. Maybe it's because it serves as the stereotypical overlong book. Maybe I heard a joke about reading War and Peace cover to cover three times while waiting at the DMV, but the novel has been in my conscience for a long time. And ever since I was a kid, trying to read Grisham books because I wanted to be "grownup," I knew a reckoning with this monster was bound to happen sooner or later.Now that it's over, I think it's a real shame that War and Peace is best known for its length. The novel is a daunting, but not a difficult read. With perhaps the exception of the Second part of the Epilogue, the read is actually easy. The characters are relatable, the prose is easily enjoyable, and the pace of the plot is engaging.** Tolstoy does go on digressions, he often drops the narrative and goes into ruminations on the true nature of history, but he is able to do this in a seamless manner. It all fits together at the end, but it's not particularly jarring as you go along. For me, the best single word modifier of War and Peace isn't long, it's full. For example, the television show The Wire***, a show that has been described as Tolstoy-ish, is nominally about the efforts of a Baltimore police unit to counter the drug trade in West Baltimore. But if you watched this show you know that this doesn't begin to adequately label what the show is about. The show was about modern American life, race relations, the failings of democracy, the incompetence of bureaucracy, the burdens of family, and more. Put simply, it's about America. Similarly, the narrative of War and Peace concerns the travails of two upper class Russian families during the Napoleonic Wars. If the novel was solely limited to this, it would be a fantastic historical novel. But Tolstoy uses this narrative to do so much more. He criticizes established theories of history and ruminates on the true force that causes events to happen. And in the midst of both of these strands, Tolstoy, through his characters and his narrative voice, ruminates on man's search for purpose, both on the individual and collective level. The narrative thread of the book considered by itself is a supreme achievement. For all the criticisms he gives them, Tolstoy himself is an excellent historian. He's fantastic at capturing the feel of what it how the times felt. The cultural gap between an early 21st century American reader and the early 18th century Russian nobility is needless to say jarring. But Tolstoy never lets things get too uncomfortable. There are very few anecdotes or passages that are overwhelmingly foreign to the modern reader. Like I said above, the narrative is rarely, if ever, difficult or dull. Isaak Babel spoke the truth, in his reaction to War and Peace. "If the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy." Although little aspects of Tolstoy pop up every now and then, his narrative is impressive for his omnipresence. Much has been made of Tolstoy's realism, but those considerations behind the novel is the most humane piece of art I've encountered. Don't let the historical novel label or the publication date scare you off. Sure, the book was first published in the first year of the Grant administration and was about events that took place generations before publication. Notwithstanding these facts, the book is stunningly relatable. I guarantee you that there will be at least one passage that will leave you convinced that Tolstoy somehow traveled through time to plagiarize your dream journal. All the character, no matter how drastically times and customs have changed, remain at a certain level easily recognizable, familiar, and always viscerally real. Tolstoy, like no other author I've encountered, explores the parameters and comes close to nailing the essence of this state of being that we call being alive. Multiple lifetimes of wisdom and experience seep out of the pages. I know this is getting hokey, but I feel that strongly. Infinite Jest is still my favorite novel, but War and Peace has taken its place as the best novel I've ever read. It's one of those rare books that work as a (extremely long) mantra. As you contemplate and consider the novel you experience a transcendental feeling of deeper awareness. War and Peacereads like it should have been brought down from a mountaintop chiseled on stone plates****. Read it today... or whenever you have a good bit of time on your hands. * This book is maybe the prime example of why nearly one year into my Kindle experience I'm conflicted. For fiction, I prefer the actual experience of holding a bound group of pages and miss the ability to easily flip back to prior passages. Also, I kinda regret that I won't be able to display on my bookshelf. I feel like the electronic edition should come with some plaque or certificate you can display. Also, sometimes it was a hassle to navigate considering the ubiquitous French translations and endnotes which are numbered separately. On the one hand, it was extremely nice not having to lug around a 1200+ page book and having the option of reading this book on the go. If I had to choose again, I'm not sure which one I'd go with. ** Again, please do yourself a favor and avoid public domain translations. I love raiding Project Gutenberg for free books, but this was totally worth the extra cash. ***AKA the best television show ever, and, perhaps, the best example of narrative storytelling of the best decade. I am an unrepentant whore for The Wire. **** Except this would require a small army of stone haulers and quarry workers, and may severely reduce the world's supply of rock.


Beyond the panoramic Battles of Austerlitz and Borodino, the muffled burning of Moscow and Napoleon’s dilapidated retreat, Tolstoy in War and Peace painted the Napoleonic War’s dislodging the cast of characters from their apparel concerns, gossipy sorties, troubled marriages and career ambitions and through their social clumsiness, oppressive ideals, spiritual dullness and determined naivete, extorted their unavoidable responses to these tidal waves.The Battle of AusterlitzWhile Napoleon sought to drive history’s course through his lashing will and reining determination by marching onto Moscow, Kutuzov by sensing and attuning to the historical current tactically retreated beyond Moscow and after the Napoleonic army’s natural dissipation trailed its chaotic retreat. Tolstoy, who believed historical crosswinds to be too complicated for any Alexander the Great or Genghis Khan to align, favored Kutuzov’s naturalistic craftsmanship and through Pierre, applied it to personal destiny.The Battle of BorodinoAfter his wife had left him, Pierre’s clumsy and sometimes-comic search for meaning led him to freemasonry, whose esoteric philosophy failed to pave a new path beyond the thorns and thistles. Although he accepted life storms serenely, his what for and so what would continue to harass him until he met Karataev, who showed him the life unified to the land, the sea and the air and harmonious with their rhythms¾a mystical naturalism favored by Tolstoy. However, at the novel’s conclusion, our hero’s life as a conscientious nobleman, a contributing intelligentsia and an accommodating family man, perhaps a sign that age would squander aspirations and the years would sap physical and emotional energy, smelled of defeat to his previous pilgrimage. On the other hand, Andrei’s escaping from marriage, career and the mundane drudgery, and impulsively grasping after the wintry Polaris led to the battlefield where he almost died. Although Natasha’s love provided respite, her unfaithfulness confirmed his suspicion of an earthly Eden. In the end, even though he had forgiven her, he gave up that love for the ultimate rainbow, death, wherein he finally could rest. If he had not died, he probably would have been disillusioned by his love for Natasha. Leo TolstoyIt is sad that Andrei had given up youth, love and the possibilities of life, but it is equally sad that Pierre had decayed into a Nikolai Rostov after his courageous journey through what for and so what. Must we like the samurai commit seppuku to immortalize youth, vitality, creativity and aspiration so as not to decay into a grumpy and lecherous old man or a jealous and nagging old woman? Tolstoy’s determinism would dictate that Pierre would ultimately return to the natural cycle of birth, growth, education, career, marriage, procreation, contribution, decay and death. But whether we agree with Tolstoy or not, War and Peace would continue to tower above the greatest novels.


Since this is the 3rd time I’ve read War and Peace, I think I have some good advice for how to maximize your appreciation of it, besides being 30 years older the 3rd time.It is a historical novel, but I think the first two times that I read it, I did so without comprehending the historical parts and only retained the plot narrative as it pertained to the characters. However to appreciate it for its full breadth, I would recommend the following:First: know some history about Napoleon, at a minimum, know he was from Corsica, from a big family, know about Toulon, and know about the Napoleonic wars from 1805 through 1812. Spend two or three hours on the “cliff notes“ version of his life. Then another hour on 1805. The best way to learn about the French invasion of Russia in 1812, (referred to in Russia as the Patriotic War) is to read “DEFEAT, Napoleon’s Russian Campaign” by Philippe de Segur, which was written by one of Napoleon’s aides during that war, but was written ten+ years afterwards. A must read.Second, know some Russian history, specifically between the years 1800-1812. Know that Emperor Alexander was only 24 when he became emperor, by essentially a Russian version of a coup d’état. The inner circle detested his father Emperor Paul, son of Catherine the Great, so they murdered him making Alexander the Emperor. The Russians (at the time) had a thing for their dynasty, the Romanovs, and whenever they didn’t like the emperor they just went down the line to another one, sometimes a wife (Catherine the Great) or brother, not always the son. This also helps to explain their fierce devotion to the emperor by all classes of society. The Devil you know is better than the devil you don't. Plus he.she is Russian (well, except for Catherine the Great)Third, know that you are not reading a novel in the normal use of the word. Even at the time it was written, people were confused. It has a basic plot about the lives of four Russian families, and their dramas. It also follows some of the male members of these families as they go to war, in 1805 and later on up to 1812. These male members happen to observe many historical figures such as Napoleon, Alexander, General Kutuzov and of course happen to be where critical historical turning points occurred. In short, the book presents both the home front and the war front. But even beyond this, Tolstoy writes a lot about history, the philosophy of history, how historians make mistakes and made mistakes in their interpretations of the events described in the book. He also philosophizes about war, why men make war, and presents the point of view that in some cases, maybe all cases, war is inevitable; being the confluence of four or five circumstances beyond any one person’s control. Then he’ll write a passage suggesting that Napoleon isn’t necessarily responsible for the destruction because he wasn’t the one pulling the triggers. That passage reminded me of Buffy Sainte Marie’s famous song Universal Soldier. It’s interesting to note that Tolstoy became a pacifist later in life. I wonder how many theses and dissertations were written about the correlation between the massive research he must have done on these wars that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, and this later philosophy of his. Fourth the translation. When I read it during class at UC Berkeley in 1978, the translator was Constance Garnett. I don’t remember who the translator was the second time, probably the same. The 3rd time the translator was Maude but ¾ of the way through I switched to Pevear and Volokhonsky which came out in 2007. I also continued to read some passages by Maude. In short, I recommend you just read Pevear and Volokhonsky. They translate the French for you, which Maude does not, and also it is just easier to read. They also maintain they are truer to the original Russian, and give examples in the preface, comparing their translation with two or three others. I was sold. If you do this, your first read of War and Peace will be as satisfying as my third.

Emily May

So... I did it. I finally convinced myself to read War and Peace, partly because it's just something everyone wants to say they've done, and partly because one always needs a good excuse to procrastinate during the exam period when I should have been studying. And, you know what, I really enjoyed most of it. The novel is far less taxing than I imagined, I don't know if that's because the English translation goes easy on us non-Russians or because Tolstoy wrote it in a quite light-hearted fashion. I suspect I shall never find that out for myself.Personally, I think a much better title for this book would be War and People. Because, though an in-depth look at history during the time Napoleon had ambitions to take over Europe, this is first and foremost about humanity and Tolstoy observes humanity and all its weirdness with a sense of humour and occasionally sadness. I don't like to make too many predictions about the older authors, some people will tell you that Bram Stoker was a feminist and William Shakespeare was a humanist, I think these are quite melodramatic conclusions to make about authors who lived in societies where they would struggle to be that.However, Tolstoy may or may not consider himself liberal, forward-thinking, a humanist, and I wouldn't state that he is any of those things. But I think his perception of the human condition in the nineteenth century shows he is somewhat before his time in his ability to see almost every character as flawed, confusing but ultimately human. He manages to construct a comphrehensive view of humanity and Russian culture at the time in question, complete with betrayals and scandals and affairs. But though the characters may place blame on one another - like calling Natasha a hussy - Tolstoy appears to remain impartial. Those who stray from the conservative path of the nineteenth century do not do so without reason.Another reason that War and People is a much better title for this book is because there is very little peace going on in here. There are times when the battles aren't raging, of course, but there is always something equally dramatic happening within the social world of Russian high society. People falling in and out of love, people having affairs, wealthy aristocrats dying and leaving their fortune to illegitimate sons. It seems to me that there's a constant war going on in this book, just sometimes it isn't on the battlefield.And oddly enough, it was the real wars in War and Peace that interested me least of all. They were probably the reason this book got four stars instead of five - and because goodreads rating system is about personal enjoyment rather than literary merit. I felt much more entertained by the soap opera that was the lives of the Russian nobles than by the tedious and repetitive battle scenes. There were guns and canons and horses - riveting. But thankfully, like I said, Tolstoy's masterpiece is more about people than anything else and this is the reason that I saw this book through and enjoyed the journey.


The edition I read, 1300 pages, is Oxford “World’s Classics.” Now I know why… War and Peace has to be one of the most amazing books I have read. Where to begin. I guess the thing I enjoyed the most about it, and what impressed me the most, was Tolstoy’s depth of insight and perception of human nature, spanning social classes, men, women, and children. By the end you feel that you know the characters so well that you could recognize them in a crowd on the street. And there isn’t just one or two main characters that this applies to. There are whole families of main characters, but I didn’t feel challenged in keeping track of them. They are so believable, you just get to know them in spite of yourself. They start out as social acquaintences among the wealthy Russian gentry, and you follow them through battles, illnesses, romances, military hospitals, war captivity, death, debt, and life-changing perspective shifts. You have the experience of the War of 1812 right along with them, with things gradually getting worse and more intense, looking back and thinking, I never thought things would come to this. But here we are. I am still me, but I have grown and changed, and these others - I can remember a time before I met them but I know them so well now that I can’t remember how it felt to not know them.This is my criteria for an excellent, compelling book: Through the telling of a story, the author imparts to the reader the same feelings and experiences that the characters are having. By reading the book you live out in a partial, but convincing and moving way, the same thoughts, emotions, and discoveries that the story describes. This is a subtle, hard-to-pin down quality. Something in the pacing, the way and timing in which information is revealed or concealed… Obviously it comes with the author’s skill in describing people and events. Choice of words, to evoke the right imagery that really resonates with the reader. That’s the magic of good writing - you don’t have to work to imagine. The visuals spring unbidden to your mind, as if they couldn’t be any other way. A few brief external words later, you have envisioned internal truths.Many of the descriptions and characters resonated with me in an “ah, yes. This I know. True, that.” kind of a way. But other things, like the descriptions of the characters’ experiences in battle, taught me a lot of new things about what it must be like to be a man, a soldier, a soldier in combat. These kinds of things are timeless, I think. A socialite in the early 1800’s, a young army officer in the early 1800’s - we are not so different in these modern days. Human nature still rings true, when it is truly captured in words, and so masterfully as Leo Tolstoy has done in War and Peace.I would recommend it to anyone.——One tiny note: You have to be patient with Tolstoy. He kind of goes off on his ideas about the philosophy of history, especially in the later portion of the book. I found it interesting, but maybe repeated a few too many times…

Chiara Pagliochini

"Si dice: le disgrazie, le sofferenze…” esclamò Pierre. “Ma se adesso, in questo stesso istante, mi domandassero: vorresti esser rimasto quello che eri prima della prigionia, oppure di nuovo, da principio, passare attraverso tutte queste cose… com’è vero Dio, un’altra volta la prigionia e la carne di cavallo! Noi crediamo che, non appena qualcosa ci sbalza fuori dalla solita carreggiata, tutto sia perduto: e, invece, soltanto allora incomincia il nuovo, il buono. Fin quando c’è vita, c’è anche felicità."Quando consegni due mesi di vita nelle mani di un solo romanzo e tutte le sere è il tuo appuntamento fisso – spegni la tv, accantona il pc, limita le uscite – allora il rapporto che si crea tra te e quell’opera è tutto particolare, una cosa che non riusciresti a spiegare in due parole senza sentirti terribilmente ingiusto. Perché se è vero che quel romanzo l’hai amato e odiato, se è vero che l’hai carezzato e poi hai desiderato scagliarlo sul pavimento e saltarci sopra coi piedi, è anche vero che hai imparato a conoscerlo molto meglio di quanto conosci qualunque altro e, se così si può dire, è anche vero che quel romanzo conosce te. E come, col passare degli anni, si ha sempre di più da raccontare su un vecchio amico e giorno per giorno veniamo sorpresi da qualche inaspettato guizzo della sua personalità, così la mole dei commenti, dei pensieri, delle riflessioni è troppo consistente per ridurla in due parole. Metà delle annotazioni le dimentichiamo strada facendo, alcune ci sovvengono soltanto alla fine, altre le veniamo contraddicendo pagina per pagina e così, cammina cammina, sei arrivato alla fine: la tua conoscenza deborda, si rifiuta di limitarsi a una frasetta. Con questo, l’autore della recensione si viene scusando della chilometricità di quanto segue. Che cos’è Guerra e paceGuerra e pace è un romanzo storico ambientato in Russia tra il 1805 e il 1820. Particolare attenzione è rivolta a eventi quali la guerra dei tre imperatori, la battaglia di Austerlitz, l’invasione napoleonica della Russia, la battaglia di Borodino, l’abbandono e l’incendio di Mosca, la precipitosa ritirata dei francesi. Anche al più lampante idiota salta all’occhio che una descrizione del genere dev’essere completamente inadeguata. Ebbene, proviamo a darne un’altra. Guerra e pace è un romanzo nel quale gli eventi della Grande Storia si intersecano cogli eventi della piccola storia di due famiglie della nobiltà russa, i Rostov e i Bolkonskij. Mentre la Grande Ruota della Storia avanza su se stessa consumandosi, i Rostov e i Bolkonskij verranno consumando le loro vicende umane, di uomini e donne vitali, disorientati, tutti alla ricerca di un senso che renda giustizia all’esistenza, tutti tesi verso una felicità che vanno ricercando ognuno in una direzione diversa. Il lampante idiota si arriccia i baffi e dice, embè? Va bene, riproviamo. Guerra e pace è un romanzo in cui la Grande Storia e la piccola storia si formano alla visione filosofica e metafisica del suo autore. Che cosa sia la storia, come e da chi venga portata avanti, in cosa consista la felicità, il bene, perché c’è il dolore, la morte, esiste o no il libero arbitrio, sono solo poche delle tante questioni che Tolstoj non manca puntualmente di affrontare, consegnando al lettore una filosofia completa e complessiva di enorme portata. Questa terza definizione piace ancora meno al lampante idiota, che solo alla parola “metafisica” ha fatto una smorfia. Il lampante idiota, nella sua lampante idiozia, ha cominciato a chiedersi dove stia la verità e come in un romanzo possa finirci tutta questa roba insieme. Il lampante idiota ha ragione: la nostra definizione pecca già nell’esordio. Sì, bisogna essere sinceri col lampante idiota. Ebbene, vi inganniamo. Guerra e pace non è un romanzo. Ahimè, no. Non è un romanzo perché per essere romanzo dovrebbe non essere anche un trattato storico. Non è un romanzo e non è un trattato storico perché per essere romanzo e trattato storico dovrebbe non essere anche un trattato filosofico. Quel che sia Guerra e pace non è facile a dirsi e, se una parola è possibile, allora Guerra e pace dev’essere un universo, un universo staccato dal nostro, con le sue leggi di gravitazione particolari, un universo solido, funzionante, completo, che Tolstoj ci consegna in luogo del nostro. Consegnandoci il suo universo, Tolstoj viene in qualche modo a privarci del nostro. Per due mesi, viviamo altrove, due mesi ospiti della Galassia-Tolstoj. I personaggiCome, alla fine di un viaggio, più che i posti che abbiamo visto ricordiamo le persone con cui li abbiamo visti e le disavventure, le risate che li hanno accompagnati, così di Guerra e pace ricorderò i personaggi – le persone – che m’hanno accompagnata nel viaggio più che le tappe del viaggio in sé. E temo d’averlo detto più di una volta, per più di un romanzo, ma mai è giusto e sacrosanto quanto questa volta: che a considerare questi personaggi solo dei personaggi si fa un torto a Tolstoj e a se stessi. Mai quanto in questo caso il personaggio è tanto vero, chiassoso, debordante di vita da non poter più essere figurina di carta. Qualche giorno fa, a lezione, il professore di letteratura russa ha raccontato di un tale internato nei gulag che diceva di essere riuscito a sopportare quella terribile esperienza perché il pensiero gli andava alla famiglia Rostov, all’autenticità di Nataša, Nikolaj, del vecchio conte. E così, se una cosa tanto potente può accadere, se pensare a Nataša può risollevarci da una situazione estrema di prostrazione, lenire la nostra disperazione, allora la giustificazione non possiamo trovarla in una somma di tratti particolarmente convincente. A volte si è così presi dalle vicende umane di questi esserini di inchiostro e corteccia che si scoppia a piangere da una riga all’altra, senza motivo, perché si è troppo felici o troppo tristi o perché quello che accade a loro accade contemporaneamente a noi, la loro vita è la nostra, anche se tra le due non c’è alcuna somiglianza. A molti potrà sembrare un’esagerazione e confesso che suona un po’ sciocco anche a me che lo scrivo, ma è andata così. Per due mesi ho camminato e mi sono guardata allo specchio e ho pensato a me stessa come se non ci fossi solo io, circondata da un crocchio di fantasmi che mi imponevano i loro pensieri e le loro concezioni di vita. E ho parlato da Pierre, son stata male come Andrej, ho cercato Nataša nel mio riflesso. Ho dimenticato che al di sotto della finzione c’ero ancora io, sono stata leggera. È impossibile in questa sede dare una definizione o anche solo menzione di tutti i personaggi del romanzo. Per questo motivo ho deciso di sceglierne uno solo, che poi è di nuovo Nataša, e per ogni strada mi sembra di tornare a lei. Nel film del ’67 la prima apparizione di Nataša avviene così:Inquadratura in campo medio - il salotto di casa Rostov. La contessa Rostova, il marito e alcuni ospiti tra cui Pierre Bezuchov siedono su poltroncine, prendono il tè, si scambiano pettegolezzi su membri dell’alta società e discutono delle imprese di Napoleone. Al centro dell’inquadratura, una porta chiusa. Tre raccordi sull’asse – la porta si spalanca e Nataša, tredici anni, un vestito bianco, occhi sgranati e un sorriso quasi innaturalmente teso, entra correndo in salotto. La sua figura è investita da un fascio di luce che proviene dal fuoricampo, oltre la porta, ma che sembra emanare da Nataša stessa e si riversa nel salotto come in un quadro del Caravaggio, La vocazione di San Matteo. Inquadratura in campo medio – Nataša si stringe alla madre e le sussurra qualcosa nell’orecchio, poi esce sempre correndo dalla stanza. Quando la porta si chiude, cessa il fiotto di luce. Ora, a parer mio, non c’era modo migliore di introdurre Nataša che questo. Perché Nataša è luce, e questa è la definizione più completa che possiamo dare di lei. Nataša è luce che brilla per se stessa e che al contempo illumina tutti gli altri, facendo dono a ognuno della sua vitalità, della sua luminosità di prospettiva. Grazie a lei, molti altri tornano in vita: il principe Andrej Bolkonskij, il fratello Nikolaj, il conte Bezuchov. Nataša è capace di restituire la forza vitale a chiunque l’abbia perduta, per il solo fatto che la sua forza è così immensa che solo una minima parte le è necessaria. L’altra, può donarla tutta. Ma come il sole non si avvede di illuminare la Terra e non si cura di bruciare il raccolto, di seccare il suolo, di accecare gli occhi, così Nataša, se fa del male, non se ne avvede, non già perché sia cattiva ma perché è centrata su se stessa, non concepisce altri sentimenti che non siano i suoi. Così è Nataša, dilaniata tra impeti di grande generosità e un principio di totale egoismo, il suo egocentrismo essendo spontaneo come quello del sole. Ma allo stesso modo che, con la fine del sole, pure la nostra galassia finirà, senza Nataša la Galassia-Tolstoj collasserebbe, trascinando sul fondo tutti gli altri, impedendo loro di trovare una risposta. WeltanschauungDue parole, il minimo indispensabile, vale di spenderle sulla visione del mondo che non solo emerge, ma è continuamente esplicitata dall’autore. Per Tolstoj, l’uomo non può fare a meno di avere coscienza della sua libertà. Egli sente di agire di sua volontà e capisce che, se il suo libero arbitrio fosse annientato, non sarebbe neanche più umano. Ma quando l’uomo è inserito nel corso della storia e, in quanto tale, è trascinato da eventi immensamente più grandi di lui, allora si perviene a una contraddizione insolubile. L’uomo è sì libero, ma nel contempo è schiavo della necessità della storia. Che la storia si svolga in un certo modo e non in un altro appare a Tolstoj la conseguenza di una necessità, di una predeterminazione più alta, che conduce a un certo fine con certi mezzi, e non altrimenti. Non sono l’uomo con le sue azioni né il caso a determinare il corso degli eventi storici, poiché il loro svolgimento è già scritto. L’uomo pensa di guidare la storia, in realtà ne è guidato.Alla domanda “da chi è ordinato il corso degli eventi?” Tolstoj non offre una risposta netta. Certe volte sembra che sia Dio, “senza il quale neanche un capello cade dal capo degli uomini”, certe volte una necessità che è legge, una necessità che esiste ma di cui non si può capire perché esiste, una sorta di legge di gravitazione universale applicata alla storia. Il problema fondamentale dell’uomo è che si chiede il perché delle cose. La continua ricerca di un senso lo priva della possibilità di essere felice. Per essere felice, l’uomo non ha che due vie, o smettere di chiedersi “perché?” o rispondere “perché è la volontà di Dio”. Al di fuori di queste due vie, la fede o l’indifferenza, non c’è riposo dall’inquietudine. The dark side of Tolstoj Ora, chiunque si accinga a una recensione del genere e voglia nascondere al pubblico quanto Guerra e pace sia al contempo estremamente tedioso e, apparentemente, superfluo in molte sue parti non sarebbe un recensionista onesto. Perché, per il lettore del duemila, Guerra e pace è effettivamente tedioso e superfluo in molte sue parti. L’editor di una qualsiasi casa editrice oggi ne sfronderebbe la maggior parte, per presentarci una vicenda ripulita da tutti i suoi orpelli, dalle descrizioni di avvenimenti bellici estremamente complesse e complicate da visualizzare, da personaggi minori il cui impatto sul lettore risulta solo in un incremento di noia. Tolstoj è uno scrittore molto diverso dagli scrittori che conosciamo, dagli scrittori di oggi. Innanzitutto, è uno scrittore che non sembra in alcun modo curarsi del suo pubblico. Che il lettore lo segua o no, che si interessi o meno, Tolstoj va per la sua strada, incauto, irriverente, egoista. Elitario, impopolare, anti-democratico, poco rispettoso del giudizio altrui, sono tutte cose che mi sento di dire di Tolstoj senza temere di offenderlo. Perché se, nello scrivere Guerra e pace, Tolstoj immaginava un possibile pubblico di lettori, allora non poteva che visualizzarlo come tanti piccoli, barbuti Tolstoj, tutti ugualmente interessati a ciò che aveva da dire. Ma il lettore medio, no, non è interessato almeno al 60% di quel che Tolstoj dice. Sospira, sbuffa, non vede l’ora di scavallare i capitoli in cui Napoleone ha il raffreddore. Ma proprio per questo enorme limite di sensibilità e comprensione per il prossimo, Tolstoj si qualifica uno scrittore molto più grande dei suoi colleghi contemporanei. Uno scrittore che scrive quel che vuole scrivere fino in fondo, che non risparmia nulla di quel che vuole dire, che dice quel che vuole dire pur sapendo quanto sarà noioso, che non accetta di prostituirsi ai gusti dei lettori più superficiali, quelli che vanno in cerca solo di belle frasette: ecco, uno scrittore del genere non può definirsi altro che onesto. Tolstoj è questo: l’onestà nella sua forma più cruda, con tutti i limiti (apparenti e non) che l’onestà porta con sé. E se vi state chiedendo, “ma insomma, questo libro t’è piaciuto così tanto oppure ti sei annoiata così tanto?”, la verità sta certamente da entrambe le parti. M’è piaciuto così tanto nonostante mi sia annoiata così tanto. Sembra una contraddizione insolubile, come quella tra necessità e libero arbitrio, il cui scioglimento sta nell’accettarla come una verità di fede. Il mio augurio è che possiate, un giorno, prendere in mano questo libro, prenderlo in mano in un periodo libero da impegni, un periodo tranquillo o magari disperato della vostra vita. Il mio augurio è che i suoi difetti superficiali non vi impediscano di vedere quanto sia straordinario nel suo centro, quanto vi possa arricchire non come lettori, ma come persone. Perché Guerra e pace – ormai il lampante idiota ha capito – è questo, non solo un libro, ma una diversa esperienza di vita.

Emma Rj

This book is bloated old piece of crap. How this even got published in the first place is beyond me, much less how it has been considered a 'classic' for years.I had read that this was 1400 pages of Tolstoy giving his readers a dry, boring recount of the French invasion of Russia but I didn't believe it. I wish I had believed it. Not only is War and Peace a sleep-inducing lecture on way too many perspectives of this war, it also comes complete with Tolstoy's never-ending butt-in chapters that he uses to force his opinion on us of France, Napoleon, Alexander, Russia itself, religion, politics, love, family, and anything else that apparently came to his mind.This was worse than a textbook. This was a textbook that came with the annoying, opinionated professor built in! The only slightly interesting parts of this book were the lives of Natasha and Ellen and that only accounts for maybe 15% of the total. This book is so bad it has two epilogues. That right there should be warning enough to you to stay far, far away from War and Peace. Don't be as dumb as me.I wish I had never picked this up. I am an angrier, more cynical person for it. If Tolstoy wasn't already dead, I would wish him so.


War and Peace - this title could suggest a contrast within the story, two different states, where we discover people who learn about themselves through experience. Instead, I think Tolstoy joins these two bitterly divided opposites to describe one consistent condition of humanity. Rather than thinking of conflict versus harmony, I see a common experience of yearning between the masses and the individual. While we glare into the glow of Pierre, Prince Andrei and others during their transient epiphanies, and see the French and Russian armies pillage and murder in the name of conquest and national glory, we realize, only through the philosophical explanations provided by Tolstoy, how the errors in popular historical analysis, our adopted science for understanding history which credit men such as Napoleon and Aleksandr for causing the war, match the fruitless employment of reason in the pursuit of happiness and meaning.The book itself re-imagines the novel. As a fusion of storyline and philosophical treatise, we understand the book as a mirror to life itself with all of our deepest concerns and miseries - our most cherished serenity and elation. Tolstoy, who refuted critics who categorized his work as a novel, transforms himself from an imaginative creator into an artistic conduit. His philosophical diatribes serve to defend the reality of his fiction, the reasonable nature of his portrayals. He morphs fiction into one of the truest representations of ourselves. He does not employ many literary devices, though his realist's perspective adds to the credence of his ideas. I like to think that he found life's essence, developed this insight, and then saw it in such contradictory states as war and peace. This insight unifies all life, good or evil. But this insight also exposes the mistakes we make.Pierre eventually understands the folly of pursuing life's meaning with intellect, in the same way as Tolstoy argues for the folly in popular practices of historical analysis. Pierre develops an awareness of God's presence all around him. I loved Tolstoy's metaphor of the telescope aimed toward distant, blurry objects which we assume have mysterious and profound meaning simply because we don't see them clearly. We spend our lives calibrating the telescope only to realize that the answers that we seek sit clearly within our natural reach. When Pierre understands this, he no longer seeks to clarify those distant objects. Like Prince Andrei, he fails to see the point. Though Prince Andrei follows a different path, I imagine he and Pierre as relay runners, with one handing the baton to the next runner after making a spiritual breakthrough. And consider Natasha, who, throughout the story, exemplifies the living form of happiness, a state which attracts both Pierre and Prince Andrei because it symbolizes what they desire to experience themselves. Before their respective spiritual awakenings, they yearn to share in her experience, to wake themselves within the happiness she had found. Yet Natasha never chases anything. She simply lives and loves life. During the civilian storyline, we might say that the characters eventually embrace consciousness rather than their former tools of reason. In terms of the war, and Tolstoy's arguments against historians, we might say that historians adopt reason over consciousness and freedom over necessity. While Tolstoy maintains that millions of microcosmic circumstances of human experience inevitably initiates and perpetuates the war, and all historical events, historians like to reasonably describe Napoleon and others as free military geniuses or blockheads who just decide, free from any cause, to lead a million men into murderous battle against one another. If necessity (in the sense that an incomprehensible trail of cause and effect leads to the inevitable and unavoidable culmination of an event) prescribes the war, then, in the same sense, simple consciousness of being ought to lead to the discovery of meaning and truth in life. Reason and freedom (in the sense that we exist outside the power of cause and effect) try to arrest power from life and falsely praise mankind as the progenitor of their own state of existence. Man's faculties for reason cannot truly uncover the cause or effects behind human events, nor can it uncover the cause and effect of happiness. But in knowing the power, or lack thereof, which orchestrates history and in realizing the pomposity of free will directing its course, and opening ourselves to a spiritual consciousness of life which cultivates divine love within us, we discover happiness within this life.Later, Tolstoy would illustrate the philosophical differences between reason and consciousness, freedom and necessity. Pierre abandons the former for the latter and in so doing experiences a sublime happiness in life. Imagine if someone did figure out the meaning of life and the key to living happily through intellectual means. They would then need to attentively analyze and choose each of their moves, decide whether that move conforms to their mental construct of happiness, and never experience the simple life infused with a natural love and spiritual light. Man must regurgitate the apple. What happiness awaits someone who must perform conscientious perfection? Pierre no longer proactively seeks to perfect his fellow man because of some self-righteous penance. He lives his answers. He does not need to think about them or pursue them from afar. Reason holds the answers at bay, keeps them across the table like a conversationalist, while experience and awareness allows them to fuse with our being. Then we see what we've always had.Of course, one might accuse Tolstoy of perpetrating one of the great literary ironies by composing an extensive work of intellectual art which encourages simple consciousness of life. But we imagine our lives as a journey forward, toward something unknown, when perhaps Tolstoy indicates that the journey actually brings us back from a distance to ourselves, to a home we know very little about.


I feel like I have been reading War & Peace forever. I'm used to reading about a book per week, and this mammoth took me four months! It somehow felt like a longer book than In Search of Lost Time, and probably too about as long to read despite being 1/3-1/4 the length. While the content is often spot-on and interesting, there are problems with the construction of War & Peace that make it an interminable read. Firstly, the book is not purely novel. It is a hybrid blend of novel, historical theory, and military journalism. While we primarily follow the times and trials of the Rostovs, Bezuhovs, and Bolkonskys, we also follow the personal and militaristic exploits of Napoleon, Tsar Alexander, and Kutuzov, et al. There are also lenghty discussions about history, the interpretation of history, and the over-valuation of freewill of individuals. While Tolstoy is masterful in all of these contexts, his jumps between them feel abrupt and stall the momentum of the novel. Likewise, because of the broad scope of the novel, the many characters, locations, and exploits, the jumping between narratives also results in a slackened momentum. As soon as I am getting into the story of Prince Andrey, I am transported to the drawing rooms of Petersburg or Moscow and must re-immerse myself in the story of Pierre or the Rostovs. Fortunately all of the narratives are quite compelling (unlike the insufferable Levin/farming slogs in Anna Karenina).It has been said, by whom I don't know - but seemingly repeated by everyone willy-nilly, that War & Peace is "about everything." I don't know that I agree with this statement, but nonetheless it does cover a large tapestry of the human condition and particularly Russian society. However, I find much more of life in Proust, or in Joyce, than I do in War & Peace - and for that matter, I find more in Anna Karenina. While the present novel has a certainly very large scope, and a truly epic feel, it lacks some of the emotional depth of character that I have seen in Tolstoy's other "big book." Comparing Natasha to Anna is to show how paltry the development of the former and the sophistication and vibrancy of the latter. While the are characters which seem to be well-developed and complex, such as Pierre, or at times Prince Andrey and Princess Marya, many of the characters seem to be stock characters or one-dimensional. There is little on can say about Petya Rostov, about Anatole Kuragin, about Elena Bezuhov, etc. Many of the characters weave in and out of the narrative and play important roles only in so far as they orbit the novel's major celestial bodies. On the contrary, the narrower scope of Anna Karenina (certainly a family drama as opposed to a national epic) allows for a complexity in character for all the major and sub-major characters, from the Oblonskys to the Karenins, the Vronskys, the Levins.What seems to be a chief interest of the younger Tolstoy is the role of history as an external force. A force which is at one and the same time the culmination of many freewills, and also a separate and predetermined force. He is prone to pointing out that while Napoleon is credited with the campaign of the French army, his successes would have been impossible without the voluntary choices and freewills of all of the men beneath him. Though he gave orders, many times they were not received on the battle field, etc. Tolstoy holds few punches in diminishing Napoleon's accomplishments, and accredits history, the motive force of some predetermined trajectory, with many of his successes and also failures. Strangely, Tolstoy spends a significant portion of the latter part of the novel defending the strategic choices of commander in chief Kutuzov, though by his own logic, his role was as insignificant.It is unusual for me to read "historical fiction" - it always feels a bit stilted to put words and emotions and glances onto the body of someone who truly existed, felt, and moved. Having learned about Napoleon, about Alexander, there is a distance from me which they have in my mind. They are separated from me by death. And rather than having the effect of communing with the dead, I rather feel I am communing with their impostors, with well disguised mannequins, who look and are addresses as Napoleon, as Kutuzov, as Tsar Alexander, but are wholly unoriginal. Conversely, I feel that the barrier between reality and fiction is much thinner - I feel that I have lived with Pierre, with Natasha, and Nikolay and Andrey, I have lived side-by-side with them for four months, they feel very real to me, though they are simply inventions of Tolstoy's imagination. Their roles in history are minor, but the scope of the novels establishes their personal histories, which I can relate to as a person. The life of Napoleon is incomprehensible to me, it is too large, on too grand a scale, but the troubles of Pierre Bezuhov seem to exist for me on the same earth as my own struggles, my own life. I have not fought a war, nor joined the free masons, nor married a harlot, but I have felt as Pierre has felt - he could exist in any place or time, and it only so-happens that he was born into the realm of history, while Napoleon seems to have given birth to that history.


There is a lot of war in "War and Peace," and quite a lot of uneasy peace.This is a Russian novel, and it has the characteristics of all Russian novels:-- There are a great many characters.-- They discuss everything they do at great length.-- They talk about God a lot.-- They cry a lot.-- The characters have long names.-- Each character has at least two names, and the author seems to decide which name to use at a whim. This confuses me, but it doesn't seem to bother Tolstoy.Then there are characteristics that might apply just to Tolstoy:-- He describes women's clothing in greater detail than any other male author I've encountered. But then, Tolstoy describes everything in great detail.-- Sooner or later, practically all of Tolstoy's women, and a few of his men, have heaving bosoms.-- Tolstoy doesn't hesitate to kill off major characters. Sometimes it takes a hundred pages; sometimes it happens in a paragraph. It's not easy being a Tolstoy character.Something that particularly struck me in "War and Peace" is that the Russians are at war with France through much of the book, yet the Russians are Francophiles. The upper-crust Russians speak French as much as they speak Russian. They read French novels. They adopt French customs and dress. They are in awe of Napoleon, although some of them think he is the Antichrist."War and Peace" is an intimidating book because of its length, but it's not at all difficult to read. Yes, there are dry patches -- such as the entire second epilogue. But Tolstoy's ability to bring a scene to life more than makes up for those dry patches. While reading one section, in which a character is led off to what he believes will be his execution, I felt that queasy feeling in my stomach I get when I'm about to face a situation I've been dreading. You know the feeling I'm talking about ... the feeling you get when the boss says, "Can you step into my office?" Tolstoy made me feel that way, with only words on a page.What I appreciated most about his description of battles was the sense of confusion the combatants felt. I've never been in a battle, so I don't know what it's like. But I can well imagine that it would be as Tolstoy describes it. There's the huge battle going on, but what the individual soldiers experience is disconnected from the big picture. They don't really have any idea what's happening. They aren't following a plan, they are just reacting."War and Peace" is a remarkable book and a great winter read.


This originally was my read-at-home-only-book. Reasons being: 1) it's heavy, 2) I didn't want to look like a pretentious douche toting War and Peace around, 3) my embarrassment at not having read it yet, and 4) it's heavy.This ended up being so good, I actually ventured outside with it more than once. Sure, the book is all over the place, Tolstoy throws in quite a few hate-filled Napoleon rants, and the boring strategic war scenes are kind of awful, but still, this was AAH-MAZING. (Even with that second epilogue. Good God, what was that?)But really, this was great. There were so many great characters--even the ones I hated I still loved. I know Andrey, Natasha, and Pierre will stick with me forever.


Written for the Celebrity Death Match Review TournamentThe bout is held at the house of Natalya "Natasha" Ilyinichna Rostova. Mrs. Beeton arrives with a present of clotted cream. "How thoughtful" says The Countess Rostova. "I have prepared tea for your arrival""Why, Thank you, Countess", Mrs. Beeton sits on a comfortable chair as the Countess' maid pours tea."Please. Call me Natasha""This is a very cozy place, Natasha." sniffs Mrs. Beeton. "Are these scones""Why yes, Mrs, Beeton. I have read your book. We Russians are not as barbaric as you may think. I found your advice on managing the servants quite helpful. And Russians love big extravagant parties."Mrs. Beeton chuckles. "Well. It appears I have brought a bit of England to majestic Moscow."Natasha smiles. "I hope you will stay for dinner and meet the family.""I would love too. A fancy Russian meal, I hope.""Mrs Beeton. It is the 21st century and things have changed a bit, even in Russia.""How so, Natasha?""We're going to McDonald's"Mrs. Beeton screams and runs out the door.Natasha sips her tea. "That was easy".


Already, I'm hankering to reread this sucker. Twenty or so subplots: impossible to summarize here (for me, anyway). But I look at the book this way: Carl Sagan once wrote an essay arguing that looking at a grain of salt could open up answers to questions about the universe. That's what Tolstoy did here. He used Napoleon's conquest of Russia to examine questions that still resound today: How much can we actually control the events around us, how great are "great" men in history (not very, according to him, merely tools of history), and what motives ultimately benefit a person in the face of tragedy and upheaval? Tolstoy makes it very clear in his afterword that he does not consider War and Peace a novel. Neither do I. I had to fight through some of his digressions about the war, the military actions and the nature of history. I understand why most critics wish to cut them (that's right, "most" critics, not just a few radicals), but once you junk the term "novel," you have to take the package deal. And if we're to move within the parameters of mimetic realism, there's just no way to cover this material in any other fashion. You have to have a wide array of characters, to prevent coincidence and fortuitousness from intruding, and you have to contrast what is said about the events (by Napoleon, Alexander, Kutozov, or whoever) with what is actually done (by the soldiers, the nobility, etc.). A few notable observations: --W&P seems to have a few things in common with Gone With the Wind. Not enough for a doctoral dissertation, alas, but both novels begin with a party and end with a declaration of future change, both revolve around spoiled upper-crust girls who learn their lessons the hard way (if they learn them at all), both deal with women struggling in less-than-ideal marriages. There's no Rhet Butler equivalent, but there's plenty of his edge in scenes like where Pierre flips out against Helene, or the old Count Marya's abuses of his daughter. --Tolstoy is big on revelation presenting itself through the natural world. Pierre, Prince Andrei, and assorted others get their big wake-up call while dying in a battlefield looking up at the sky, or sitting on a horse looking up at the sky, or staring at an oak tree, or hunting a wolf. His metaphors and analogies, when not classical references, depend on farms and farm activity (sheep being fattened for slaughter, for example: the sheep don't know why it's happening, but other sheep can correlate them being taken away periodically with their fattening bellies). None of this is surprising, I suppose, given the fact that the novel was written smack dab in the middle of an Industrial Revolution that was just beginning to make its way to Russia, but the thing about motifs, obvious or not, you notice them. --Some of these women are downright seductive to the reader. And that's saying something. Tolstoy's prose is hardly risque, even if his topics sometimes are, so when Helene works her charms at a party, or Natasha flirts with Anatole or Andrei, I can just sense some of Tolstoy's middle-brow readers (myself included) panting with enthusiasm. Why, I'm not sure. Maybe it's the party scenes, with their many and sundry rivalries masked beneath a veneer of civility, that has me looking for further cracks in the armor. Or maybe I'm conditioned by Anna Karenina to equate these settings with eventual sexual forays. Whatever. I'm not proud. --As far as I'm concerned, Tolstoy would have done quite the job setting this book in Alexander the Great's reign, or the American Civil War, or wherever, for reasons I've already stated. But the great thing here is, even if you know nothing about the Napoleonic Wars, it doesn't matter. Tolstoy walks you through it. A lot of critics find his "lectures" pedantic and boring, and I'd agree that you have to be in the right mood to absorb them. But they're there. My translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (2007, Knopf Publishers)has over a hundred pages of footnotes, which, admittedly, I did not make full use of but which will benefit me in a second reading. Furthermore, I like how he characterizes Napoleon in scenes where he appears directly. He doesn't go out of his way to paint him as a scared little boy in scenes where he (Tolstoy) quite clearly would address him as such. But I can see him penning the scenes after the French retreat from Moscow with a dry smile on his face. So, ultimately, I'm not about to claim expertise with W&P. It ate up the entire month of June for me, like I was having a Great Romance with it (I did cheat occasionally--I dipped into a few short story anthologies and a Michael Moorcock collection, God save me), and now I'm happy to turn to something less demanding. But this is what Deep Reading is all about. I feel good. I feel like I've cleaned the house, paid my bills, gotten a complete physical and benchpressed eighty percent of my weight. I feel strong. I feel vindicated. Next up: Henry James. Portrait of a Lady.


War and bloody Peace eh? Started June 12, 2013, finished August 26, 2013! How am I supposed to review this?! I'll apply my usual rambling slapdash technique I think.War and Peace looks like a formidable challenge for the average reader, in term of length and legendary status, this is not "just another book" you can just read and forget. Personally I read fiction mainly for entertainment purposes (best past time I know), some books I read purely out of curiosity, Some books like Moby Dick I even read for a bragging right (that did not turn out well!). Any way, as far as War and Peace is concerned it's a combo of all three, I am glad to report (not brag) that the result turned out to be more than satisfactory as far as I am concerned. The most daunting part of reading this book is when you tentatively start on the first page and constantly feel aware of the remaining thousand or so pages, I think the trick is just to ignore the remaining page weighing down your right hand and just follow the characters along and see what they get up to. After all you don't need to read the entire book if you don't find the first few chapters to your liking. For myself I kind of cheated and went the audiobook route which add up to more than 60 hours in total (read with consummate skill and probably gallons of coffee by Alexander Scourby). I pity the poor chap who read it but then I remembered he probably took well over a month to finish the reading it.In term of entertainment and readability War and Peace easily met these basic requirements for me. It starts off lightly enough with a "soiree", there are several soirees in this book, they seem like high society dinner parties which I avoid like the plague at every opportunity. The reader is gently introduced to the current situation of the day and some central characters also make their first entrances. The narrative then moves from house to house and we soon meet all the central characters which there are surprisingly few in number. Yes, it's a whale of a book with a large cast of characters but there are only a few protagonists for you to concern yourself with. This book is more about the characters than about two countries at war. Looking at the title I believe it is more about peace than about war, if anything it seems like an anti-war book to me, the message is not communicated through humor and satire like Heller's Catch-22 but through Tolstoy's profound psychological insight and humanity. This makes it more serious and dryer than Heller's book and I did doze through the odd passages but over all I found it much more rewarding.The main source of pleasure for me are the beautifully developed main characters they really came alive once I settled into the groove of the book. My favorite character is certainly Pierre Bezukhov, a chubby, sensitive, thoughtful and compassionate gentleman, not your archetypal heroic figure but certainly not an anti-hero. The best part of reading the book for me was to share Pierre's thought processes. He does tend to overthink things and is prone to changing his mind about what the meaning of life really is (a bit like me but with high IQ); following his internal is akin to some kind of telepathy. The other central characters are also very nicely fleshed out and believable, particularly the main female character Natasha Rostova who practically grows up before the reader's eyes. A few real life individuals such as Mikhail Kutuzov and Napoleon Bonaparte are presented to us as part of the novel's cast of characters, whether their fictional representation is true to the real people I can not say but to live inside their heads is a fascinating experience.The prose style (from the English translated version of it) is just stupendous, Tolstoy seems to casually toss in phrases like "sorrowful pleasure" and put it in just the right context. People who like to pick quotations from a book will have a field day with this one. Nary a page goes by without finding something quotable. Here are a couple I picked almost at random: “Here I am alive, and it's not my fault, so I have to try and get by as best I can without hurting anybody until death takes over.”“Because of the self-confidence with which he had spoken, no one could tell whether what he said was very clever or very stupid.” There are dull chapters and passages in several places of the book, the practical side of warfare is of little interest to me, but those are far outweighed by wondrous materials that feed the brain and the heart. At least I picked up some know ledge about "scorched earth principle" and Kutuzov's military genius. Special mention should be made about the epilogues, the two epilogues total moire than 100 pages, the first one wraps up the story of the protagonists and their settled down lives after the war. The second epilogue is something like a treatise on the nature of power, the real causes and meanings of war and so forth. This part of the book is so dry you may want to read it while in a bath. Still, if you have the capacity to patiently absorb what Tolstoy nave to say about these weighty matter you will probably be the wiser for it.Basically the best way to read this book in whatever format is to immerse yourself in the story, the length becomes fairly insignificant once you are along for the ride, of course you need to have a lot of patience and don't expect to race to the end of the book. Come to think of it reading it just for the bragging right is probably a waste of time. I personally like this book more than Tolstoy's equally legendary Anna Karenina which I also like but I find War and Peace more emotionally resonant. Certainly I am glad I read it, and some day (a few years from now) I would be quite happy to read it again.

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