Tuesday, April 13, 2010

No. 20 - War and Peace

by Leo Tolstoy
translated by Constance Garnett
War and Peace (Barnes & Noble Classics)

Started: April 13
Finished: September 30

Notes: Okay, it's taken me 40 years to work up the courage to read this monster, classic novel. It's considered one of the longest novels ever written, and it concerns the French invasion of Russia during the early 19th Century. I'm reading this now for a couple of reasons. One, it's the centennial of Tolstoy's death, and this serves as a reminder to me I need to get around to reading this novel. Two, I'm going into the hospital next week, so my reading and blog posting will likely be stunted for at least a few days, maybe as long as a week. This long work leaves me without having to blog much in the upcoming weeks, at least not about what I'm reading, and it will give me something to focus on, something in which I can take my time without having a need to get finished. In other words, I can take my time with this one. And at more than a thousand pages, I probably will take my time. There are multiples editions of War and Peace around, some quite different from others, and this one is the 1906 English translation.

Mini review: It took me so long to read this one, I was beginning to doubt I'd finish it this year, but I did. War and Peace is not the easiest of reads, especially for the modern reader, mainly because there's not a lot of action and even when there is action it's written almost more as a school history book than a novel. Also, there are so many characters and they have Russian or French names (most of which were unfamiliar to my American ear), it probably took me the first 400 pages before I could really begin to tell the characters apart from one another. But, all that being said, I loved this novel. I will probably never read it again due to it's length and the amount of time it took me to read it, but I still love it. War and Peace is a sweeping tale of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in the early 19th century and his eventual withdrawal. There are multiple stories in this gigantic novel, several of them at first not tied directly to the central action of the novel, the French invasion of Russia. The stories and and characters don't really all come together in one great big climax, but rather the effect of the French invasion is shown upon each of the characters, how there lives change due to the war. And for the most part, this isn't really a war novel. Yes, the war in the central point and a few of the characters are officers, but much of the story is of civilians fleeing from the French and how their lives are after the worst of the war. This is also a philosophical and spiritual tale, but not one that hits you over the head, at least not until the last 30 or so pages when Tolstoy writes a non-fiction article concerning free will. I'm glad I read this novel, though I likely won't ever again, but it definitely deserves its place among the world's greatest literatures.

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