Friday, May 18, 2007

War and Peace

Leo Tolstoy 1828-1910

Probably the scariest looking author in the classics list, just imagine waking up to see this guy standing over your bed. Fortunately he's as good a writer as he is scary. This is one long book, well over 60 hours of audio. But it doesn't seem that bad once you get a hold on the characters and their situations. A good character guide that doesn't give away any key plot points would be invaluable. The story evolves within the Napoleonic Wars in Russia from 1804-1813. The main character include: Nicolai, Petya, Natasha, Sonya, the Bolkonskis, Andrei, Marie, Count Bezuhov, Pierre, Kuragin, Anatole, Helen, Napoleon, Kutezov, Dolohov, Platon Karataev, Ana Mehalovna, Boris and many, many more. The book follows the travails and joys of these people through (surprise) times of war and peace.
Society is a battlefield in this novel. Marriages, friendships and feuds are forged in parlors and at parties. There is simply too much to give an accurate plot summary, so I'll just relate a few things. Pierre Bezuhov is easily my favorite character. Sort of an innocent soul that that is thrown from his moorings when he sees any cruelty. He inherits a huge fortune but he spends the entire novel trying to find peace. Through a rotten marriage, an ill-fated attempt on Napoleon's life, a journey into Freemasonry, a POW stint, and a new marriage to the equally sensitive Natasha Rostov, he eventually ends up with a rather elegant world view: God is everywhere, a living, breathing part of it all.
Some things to remember about War and Peace:
-Tolstoy's ideas about history: it isn't determined by great men or popular groundswells, but a bit of both, and also an unseen source.
-Anatole's sleazy seduction of Natasha.
-Tolstoy's bitingly funny observations on people's social habits and actions.
-Petya's innocence. The young man wants to be a soldier and his last scene is touching.
-The idea that Russia was saved by its superior spirit rather than logic or military planning.
-The very human portrait of Napoleon.
-Prince Vasili's societal maneuvering.
-The execution scene in occupied Moscow.
-The French invasion of Moscow and the burning of the city.
-The randomness and pure chance of wars and battles. Andrei endorses this idea.
-The small, but important role of slaves.
-Fat, old, one-eyed Kutezov, who saved Russia.
-Tolstoy's ability to zero in on a very diverse (at least ideologically so) group of characters.

Rating: 10/10: An absolute epic. I'm going to have to figure out how Tolstoy was able to write something so intricate. The characters are engaging and the backdrop of a vast war for Russia's existence makes for exciting reading despite the book's massive length.

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