The lives, romances, and fortunes of 3 prominent Russian families play out against the backdrop of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.
It’s absurd to blog about War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy’s sprawling behemoth of a novel. The title alone is ludicrous and unfathomable. People laugh when you say you’re reading it, not because they think it’s not worth reading, but because of its reputation as one of the longest books ever written. Nevertheless, I, the Superfast Reader, who read this book for the Summer Reading Challenge, and as a personal goal before my baby comes in November, will try my best.
Let me start by saying that I loved this book. My heart was captured from the very start, and the soaring romanticism of such passages like Princess Marya’s flight from Moscow or Natasha’s near ruination left me breathless. It’s such a life-affirming work, and not in a facile way, either. Tolstoy’s vision of the abundant life necessitates the acceptance of death–the embrace of death–and only those characters who face the darkness are allowed to enter into the fullness of joy. I can’t imagine I’m saying anything new about this work, but Tolstoy’s exploitation of this motif was a revelation to me on a profound spiritual level.
I must confess that I found the “war” sections tedious and ponderous, but that’s because I’m not very keen on history, particularly military history. I loved the way he brought the characters to life within the conflict and on the very battlefields themselves, but I couldn’t get myself interested in Tolstoy’s analysis of how Napoleon managed to get as far as the heart of Russia itself. I feel like the sixty-year-old me might really get into it, though, so I’m already looking forward to that rereading.
There is nothing, nothing like getting lost in another world, and Tolstoy transported me to Russia. I’ve been there just once, ten days in Anna Karenina’s Petersburg and Andrei Rublev’s Novgorod, but never to Moscow. I’m dying to see true Russia, “round Russia” as Pierre puts it when contemplating Platon’s charisma, and hope someday to ride the Transiberian railway from Moscow through Mongolia to China. It’s a dream that I’m craving even more, now that I’ve indulged in such an excess of Russianness.
I’m so glad I read this book, but I’m kind of embarrassed by what I’ve written already. I’m nowhere near conveying the experience of reading the book, or communicating how it’s worked on me over the last three weeks, or my sadness at having to say goodbye to Pierre and Natasha and Marya and Prince Andrey (oh!) and the rest. Some books are too big for anything but reading.
So read it, wouldja?
PS–This translation was outstanding, in the readability department.