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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace (1868)

by Leo Tolstoy (Author)

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Magnificent! No wonder War & Peace is still ranked very high even after 150 years. Highly recommended. It is epic in size, but the novel hooks you within first 20 pages. And once hooked, it is not simply read, one actually lives in War & Peace world for few weeks!

It is story of 5 families with Napoleon war against Russia as the background. Campaign and battle scenes are described in detail, these descriptions are supposed to be as close to real life as possible, unlike traditional history books where everything is summarized in few sentences. These war related sections should be read to gain understanding into how history actually might have played out and how it is interpreted today. In this historical background, more than 20 characters are developed fully, with their history, hopes, values, motivations. All the characters are multidimensional and one can really identify with them. As war progresses, almost all character change, evolving into totally different persona by the end of novel. End contains two part epilogue, first one directly related to novel, whereas second one is more like an essay from Tolstoy about history, free will, etc.

As with all translated works, one needs to be cautious with the translation they pick. I exchanged my older book to get Oxford World's classics edition with translators Louise and Aylmer Maude, Amy Mandelker. This is pretty good translation with French text intact. ( )
  sandeepk77 | Aug 11, 2014 |
This was, indeed, an epic read, but as there always has been more to Tolstoy, this book is no different. In it you find bits of history you would have never known otherwise, full-on societal differences and perceptions, and a statement, whether or not you consider it a little subtle, on government and society as a whole. If you know anything about the governments of the world, you see that this statement applies today just as it did then, nevermind the excesses of the wealthy. One cannot just "read" War and Peace. One who loves literature lives it, becomes it, and carries it with them the rest of their lives. Those who are afraid of it because it's such a large tome are just not willing to read anything that might impact their lives. ( )
  mreed61 | Aug 10, 2014 |
"Sõda ja rahu" on mu meelest nagu "Tõde ja õigus". Ilmselt pole paljud kumbagi raamatut lugenud, aga no kes ei tunneks Nataša Rostovat, Pierre Bezuhhovit, Vargamäe Andrest või Oru Pearu.
Ma olen üsna kindel, et ma seda raamatud varem lugenud polnud, aga ju olen ma näinud filmi? Ja loomulikult olen ma käinud klassiekskursioonil Barclay de Tolly mälestusmärgi juures. Igaljuhul, nagu kohtumine vanade tuttavatega.

Sõda ja Rahu oleks tegelikult ideaalne e-raamat. Päris naljakas oli üle pika aja lugeda paberilt. Seda lugedes oleks kohe hädasti vaja, et saaksid online tõlkida prantsuskeelsed osad ( no miks neid nii palju peab olema!), esimese osa juures võiks olla "kes on kes?" ja hiljem Venemaa kaart ja wikipedia tegelaste taustade uurimiseks samuti.

Loe edasi
http://indigoaalane.blogspot.com/2013/04/ltolstoi-soda-ja-rahu.html ( )
  Indigoaalane | Jul 18, 2014 |
Only in our conceited age of the popularization of knowledge – thanks to that most powerful engine of ignorance, the diffusion of printed matter – has the question of freedom of will been put on a level on which the question itself cannot exist.

Tolstoy is a much better storyteller than a thinker; in other words, no matter how hard he wants to be Borges, he's much better off gamboling in the bucolic glories of his beloved Russia. Part Two of this book's Epilogue cemented that in stone, forty pages of Tolstoy destroying any denunciation he had made of the horrors of war with redundant, solipsistic, and inconclusive meanderings on freewill and power. Had he stuck with a simple 'Well we just don't know so how about we keep thinking and not killing each other in those horrible massacres known as war that we shouldn't be lauding as much as we do' and ended it there, it would have been a good, sensible end. Instead, he went on. And on. And on. I've heard this paradoxical thinking is part of his appeal and his later works tell a different story but I just finished 1440 pages of the reputably nineteenth longest work in the history of novels and I am NOT going to do the 'Oh but you read the wrong one now this work is the one that is the true best of the author...' dance. Right now, enough is enough.

I recently ran across a bundle of reviews condemning Hugo for overt egotism in his [Les Misérables], and while I see the truth in that, I'll take boundless hope for empathetic humanity over thought experiments culminating in either religion or endless gnawing of ones' leg in efforts to escape any day. All authors are completely full of themselves to some degree of thinking their compositions are worthy of an audience, and while I promised to not let this review commit itself to Hugo vs. Tolstoy time, I like writers that offer a backdoor, who give an opinion/story/whatnot without spending endless paragraphs quibbling over its immutability and/or not. You like what you think? Stay considerate, consistent, and somewhere along the line concise, and I'll probably like it too.

"He could not disavow his deeds, lauded as they were by half the world, and so he was obliged to repudiate truth and beauty and all humanity."

That line sums up everything I find great in Tolstoy, that utter rout of Napoleon and putting in his place a conjuration of ineffable worth that is in no way encompassed by military might. Unfortunately, Tolstoy's very much a Hemingway, and I can only hope some of that humanity he names rubbed off on him in the eight years between the publications of W&P and [Anna Karenina], for every time a woman shows up he has no time for anything but lazy characterization, patronizing hypocrisy, and insipid similes such as how the effort to achieve women's rights is like the effort to cook the perfect meal and has no consideration for the holy sacred "family" that constitutes the only reason for matrimony. The irony is that, like many men and women of both that time and this one, he doesn't see that the patriarchy he is so horrified by, leastwise in massacres committed in the name of king and nationalism, is birthed in every situation where a woman is expected to take on all of empathy and a man is refused the slightest share. This is a given I usually don't mention due to its ridiculous ubiquity, but seeing how much time Tolstoy spent trying and failing to write women, it deserves explicit mention.

In light of that, if I do the usual thing and focus on the thoughts of male characters while keeping only a cursory eye on those of women, there's some good stuff to be found. Proust does the rich people screwing each other over in petty politics and gainful one-ups better, but Proust never went to war. Between the psychological discourse of varying levels of insight and the constant relations of history to physical laws that range from intriguing to utterly laughable, we have breathtaking sketches of natural landscape and its humans, a sleigh ride in particular being one of my favorite scenes in literature of all time. Sentiment abounds, but was made bearable by the few moments when real value was found in empathy and the bonds of humanity. I would've been happier had I forgone the epilogue, but I also wouldn't have the right to evaluate it, and of all of Tolstoy's attempts to pin down the nature of power, I favor knowledge above all others.

In short, I thought I'd get more out of this than I did, but that moment six years ago when I had to return W&P unfinished to the library has now been vindicated. Also, that Russian film adaptation looks mighty appealing. ( )
1 vote Korrick | Jun 21, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.


Snoopy reads this, one word a day

How can I possibly write something about this ginormous book that stands proud against the motley crew of my random books of mass markets, hardbounds, and trade paperbacks, and shying these on the sheer basis of breadth? A novel that spans four volumes, each volume divided into parts, and each part further divided into chapters, I struggled to finish this not without iron will and determination.

First, I was motivated by the reading support group spurred by local writer Jessica Zafra. I think we were about ten, periodically posting our inputs on the writer’s blog, including the writer herself, and I think I was the first to read my way across the finish line. I even think that only three of us really finished the book, this suspicion arising from the simple fact that the support-group-slash-challenge wasn’t capped off, unless we consider the article the writer wrote, an article that quoted the participants, as the waving checkered flag.

So you see, I really don’t know how to properly start this without the reader skipping to another random Internet article. But if you have reached this part, my effort is not in vain.

"Love? What is love?" he thought. "Love hinders death. Love is life. Everything, everything I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is connected only by that. Love is God, and to die–-means that I, a part of love, return to the common and eternal source." These thoughts seemed comforting to him. But they were only thoughts. Something was lacking in them, there was something one-sidedly personal, cerebral–-there was no evidence. And there was the same uneasiness and vagueness. He fell asleep.

I lied. That’s not a random quotation. But the manner of picking it is quite random. I sifted my thoughts through my mental silkscreen. What is this about? Of course, it’s about war and peace, no? Sure, there’s a lot of war in here that would suffice for tremendous reference if you wish to lie about being a war veteran. There are characters in here that are real people, people who are forever a part of the world’s history. Like Napoleon. And who else?

I don’t remember. Rather, I don’t know, because after reading this, I suspect that Napoleon is just a product of Tolstoy’s pen. But let’s not dwell on that; let’s return to that quote, a dust mote of a narrative from this book that could break wrists. Okay, I picked a love quote because the major characters, the major fictional characters, are caught in a love triangle of sorts, but not that type where two men go after the same woman. Our characters Pierre Bezukhov, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, and Natasha Rostov are better than that.

There are harder Russian names than that. It would be great if you also know French, because there’s a lot of French going on here. I think some editions have the all the French dialogues translated, but my edition, the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation, reputed to be the most loyal, left all the French untouched. There are footnotes, don’t worry. But given that I set out to read every single line in every volume, I still read the French lines. And whatever historical footnotes that I came across.

I don’t wish to go through the plot because really; all you need to know is that this is about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia with a lot of side twists and commentaries. I said commentaries because the author usually forgets that he is writing fiction and proceeds to write essays. Or it could be the other way around.

It is hard to convince someone to read this book, what with the popularity of classics, humongous classics at that, waning. But really, this is one good read. You don’t have to be a high-strung reader to understand it. Never mind the French, or go get another edition if you are Frenchophobic. The scenes are well-propped against exact descriptions. If you’re reading a part where a soiree is going on, you feel like a waiter eavesdropping on the conversations of the Russian high society.

The characters are well-developed and dynamic. I particularly like the polarity of Pierre and Prince Andrei, men who are supposed to bash in each other’s teeth but are the best of friends despite their vast differences. If you ask me, I prefer the dashing Prince Andrei, not only because he is dashing, but I like his thoughts and philosophies. Not to say that Pierre is uninteresting. It’s just my preference.

The plot is, yes, convoluted, but it can be tolerated. There’s just a lot going on. There are a lot of characters that could make up for a television series. That’s to be expected because it screams at over a thousand pages, but it doesn’t feel crammed. There’s comedy, drama, romance, and action, so it’s safe to say that readers of varying genres can have something to look forward to.

And yes, you can have the ultimate bragging rights of having set a reading milestone after flipping the last page.

But really, not everything is as good as I am trying to say. As much as I want to encourage everyone, I have to air this out. Tolstoy, in this novel, has a tendency to repeat himself over and over again. This is particularly evident in the essayish parts. He would wind up with a longish introduction, say about war and history, bring up a thesis, present an antithesis, conclude with a synthesis, and repeat all over on the same subject.

There are times that I wanted to scream at the book. Fine, I get it, can we please move on? Something like that. It can get annoying, but it could be exactly this why finishing this book gives you a sense of achievement. It even made me feel a little smarter. Of course, bus passengers would be intimidated if you whip out this book out of your backpack, which I did, but really, you will understand a thing or two about war and history, like the role of each other in each other.

Perhaps this should have been entitled War and History instead. ( )
1 vote angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
I enjoyed this book. It's not as good as Anna Karenina, but it's still worth the read. I'll admit that I was bored by the war part. The development of the characters is amazing but the lengthy interludes of the descriptions of the Napoleonic battles ruined a bit of that for me. Those parts are probably very interesting for someone who has an interest in the politics and fighting of the Napoleonic wars.. Worth the read. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
Wow, what a book. I'd call it an extended essay on free will, inevitability, the causes of events, the bias of historians in recording events, and humanity's innate inability to understand its own existence. The novel, or romance, or whatever else you want to call the fictional part of the book, illustrates Tolstoy's thinking and, despite making up roughly 80% of the book, is an aside to the thoughts captured in the second epilogue. The book isn't a novel in the accepted sense of the word. It is a philosophy, a theory, an allegory, a history, a fable. It is confusing and frustrating, but above all wonderfully written. The characters are beautifully observed. The essay parts might be repetitive, pedagogical, didactic, but they are an interesting insight into Tolstoy's thinking. In the fiction, too, Tolstoy isn't afraid of tough plot developments, things that are true to life, things that other novelists might shy away from in favour of happiness and happenstance. I'm very glad I've read it. ( )
1 vote missizicks | Mar 12, 2014 |
Couldn't do it, I couldn't actually read it. It was boring! ( )
  WendyBlott | Mar 11, 2014 |
I read this for the first time as part of a Basic Program class in the fall of 1990. While my reading was to be spread over ten weeks I soon found myself rushing ahead of that pace as the novel gripped my imagination. The book is an epic masquerading as a novel about the relationships among a small group of Russian families focusing on Pierre Bezukhov's individuation in particular. It tracks his journey of transformation from a strong thinking function orientation to a mature adult with a well-developed feeling function. Pierre put himself at risk by wandering around the Battle of Borodino watching and experiencing life close up to find out why men live, love, and go to war. He survived the front line, prison camp, and the falling temperatures of the French retreat march from Moscow and lived to return to Moscow.
Pierre's best friend, Prince Andrei, engaged to Natasha after the death of his wife in childbirth, became estranged from Natasha after her abortive elopement with Anatole. Andrei, mortally wounded on the battlefield, watched his friend Anatole die in an adjacent bunk during an amputation of his leg.

Later, during the evacuation of Moscow before the French army, Tolstoy put Natasha and Andrei in the same cortege of carts and they were reunited. Natasha nursed Andrew until he died in her arms. Now Nicholas, her brother, was free to marry Princess Mary (Andrew's sister), and Natasha, of course to marry her Pierre. In the book, both of the marriages were consummated and spawned children and happiness.
Tolstoy makes powerful points about war and He explains that historians construct neat scenarios to explain what happened, then what happened next, etc., but that these tight, rational schemes never existed in the realities of war and peace. Instead men placed themselves in dire situations and took individual actions (sometimes en masse) that are later seen to have been a result of some command or another.

The hero of the invasion and retreat from Moscow in Tolstoy's mind was General Kutuzov. The Russian commander-in-chief refused to allow his troops to fight in their exhausted state after Borodino, saying he preferred to lose Moscow rather than all his troops and Moscow. He withdrew his army beyond Moscow, leaving the Holy city of Russia wide open to the advancing French army. Once inside the Kremlin, Napoleon was abandoned by his army who busied themselves plundering Moscow, and he was trapped by the on-rush of the Russian winter. With supplies dwindling and no deputation from the Russians to sue for peace, Napoleon was forced to abandon a smoldering Moscow. The Russian winter's temperature plummeted to below zero and killed 90% of Napoleon's army during the disastrous trek back to France with Kutuzov's troops on their heels all the way to the border.
But in the end it is the families as exmplified by the Rostovs and Pierre that are at the heart of this epic novel. ( )
  jwhenderson | Feb 21, 2014 |
Learn about the Russian/Napoleonic wars and aristocratic Russian life while also being lectured about why the Great Men theory of history is bunk. It's no Dostoyevsky, but good albeit so time consuming ( )
  Achromatic | Feb 16, 2014 |
I was forced to read this (until page 10). But after a grudging start I couldn't stop. Great writing. Belongs in the classic category. ( )
  ZacharyFarina | Feb 6, 2014 |
The epic novel that follows a small cast of characters from 1805-1820 during Russia's wars with Napoleon.

Reviewing such a massive novel in any sort of succinct and coherent way is beyond my skills. Instead, I'll simply state that if you've ever considered picking up this tome, don't let its reputation and size scare you away. The novel itself is highly readable and the narrative is compelling enough to keep the pages turning at a decent rate. The language (at least in my translation) is clear and the chapters are short, which makes the story feel like it's moving along quickly. As is the case with any epic novel, I had story lines and characters I preferred to others but no one narrative arc ever takes centre stage for too long. Tolstoy deftly weaves together scenes from major battles between the Russian army and Napoleon's forces with events happening in Moscow and St. Petersburg, preventing battle description fatigue. He also brilliantly creates a cast of characters who vary widely but are all highly believable (for the men anyway).

Of course, with any massive tome that takes weeks to read, there are also things that drive you crazy. In my case, some of Tolstoy's depictions and descriptions of women made me shriek in frustration at their misogyny. Also, Tolstoy's occasional digressions on approaches to history began to wear thin - particularly his extended discussion of it in the second epilogue (which I didn't read all of) - although happily these only take up a few chapters in the final five books.

A book I'm very proud to knock off the reading bucket list but not one I'm likely to revisit. ( )
  MickyFine | Jan 30, 2014 |
Strange book--a big novel, but not a novel. I was there with the characters, in the salons, in Moscow and Petersburg, in the country, at war, at peace. But there's also the puzzle, "What is history," and the question, "Why do men go to war?", both woven into the story being told by the narrator, who steps in an out of the tale. Wonderful book. ( )
  wrk1 | Jan 15, 2014 |
A tale that you never want to end .This book is like a daily soap with many many characters and different parallel stories running at the same time but the main love story in between war is the main charm of this book.A must read! ( )
  Pankaj.Kumar | Dec 20, 2013 |
I've read this twice, the first time when I found it in a youth hostel years ago. People often refer to long, boring books as being like "War and Peace" - something only a few hardy people can reach the end of, like getting to the top of Everest. But there are plenty of fat, boring "airport" novels that are just as big, and are repetitive, tedious crap. War and Peace is interesting and entertaining, even if it does trail away at the end into essay-mode. Count Peter Bezukhov (or Pierre) might be the first recorded super-nerd in literature.
( )
  AMcBurnie | Nov 27, 2013 |
This story was a drag.

I tried I really did. In hopes of learning one of the great stories of history I decided to go with the Audio book. This is why it jumped out at me as it was the largest Audio Book in the library. 48 CDs. As far as an audio book production quality it was fairly well. The foreigner reading the English version was good, the end of each CD was properly announced, the beginning of the next likewise, and the track splits made sense. 48 CDs is a lot to manage, and I think about 3 or 4 MP3 CDs would have been better. The Library still had this item marked as NEW yet the box was already falling apart. That is a problem. Worst of all I couldn't renew it because the audio book was already reserved for someone else.

The story dragged on and on and on. After the first 6 discs nothing had really happened. Some guy died, someone else joined the army and a bunch of rich bastards talked about how great it is that French people kill other people, and how awesome it is to get drunk. After having to return the discs due to what was described above, I decided to watch the movie before I wrote this review. I got about half way through the 4 hour movie before I realized I still wasn't following it due to how much it dragged on and on about nothing.

Save yourself some time, unless you need to for a class, or you have a much stronger desire than I to read it just because its classic literature, don't. ( )
  fulner | Nov 18, 2013 |
Notes on War & Peace, halfway through (31 Oct)

- A four star book. It's not all that - not the best thing I've read this year (Mason & Dixon and Life A Users Manual), nor the best major nineteenth century novel as far as I'm concerned (Middlemarch or Bleak House). But it's certainly not terrible.
- Changed from the Edmonds translation to P&V after about 100pp. Whilst P&V do make word choices that annoy me and sometimes sound too modern, there is a liveliness to their version that makes it quicker to read and easier to concentrate on. Given that I just want to get through the thing, that was the priority. (I can understand why some people call this book boring.)
- P&V's intro, notes and summaries of historical characters are great and mean it's almost possible to read the book without needing anything else. What they could really have done with adding, though, is a good selection of maps.
- Quite a bit of W&P is, in the pejorative, lazy sense, Jane Austen-ish: narrowly concerned with aristocratic society and the marriage prospects of young nobles & gentry of the Napoleonic War era. Though with a little more high feeling and scandal than JA would include.
- Emotions are frequently stronger than in British nineteenth century classics. (Oh, those Russians!) And there's an interesting dichotomy of greater insolence (saying or doing various things that would just be unthinkably bad form to the English, without consequence of being entirely shunned from all society) alongside greater worship of authority.
- I don't find Tolstoy to have any more startling insight into human nature than many other well-regarded novelists. Again, he's in no way bad, simply not exceptional among them. He is also overly fond of generalisations about human behaviour and types, a pet hate of mine in fictional narratives, though admittedly a nineteenth century ubiquity. He wrote the book at the age I am now, and I would say that one of the most important things I've learned as an adult is the importance of variation between people and that generalisations, whilst they are incredibly easy to make based on cumulative experience, get in the way of understanding and relating to individuals.
- Perhaps it's inevitable I'd say this being primarily a historian rather than [remind me what the term is for literature grads] but the political and military sections are a heck of a lot more interesting than most of the society stuff in town. (Though the country scenes and landscapes are what I love best. My favourite scene of all so far is Christmas at the Rostovs, which brought to mind the most joyful bits of Bergman's Fanny & Alexander.)
- They simply couldn't help it, being permitted so little access to more interesting things to think about and do, but most of the female characters are relatively dull, with the exception of Marya, with her religion, charity and quiet battle against and not to be like her tyrannical father.
- Religion and a religious message is more significant than in British novels of the time IIRC, though I can't say I'm bothered by it, it's just historically interesting.
- As I remember thinking when I read the first 150pp or so at the start of Oct, (the rest I've read this week) this is a book of fairly normal characters who are included in their mainstream society; there are no Steppenwolves in War & Peace.
- It's quite a relaxing book because - though there is the odd paragraph or scene - it rarely brings up sad memories or reminds me of people I've known.
- Pierre and Andrei are engaged in various sorts of philosophical journey, where what they are doing with their time, their relationships, and all of their lives tends to be bound up in a set of feelings and ideas that is a complete world view which changes over time. (Marya is perhaps similar, it's just that her philosophy is so far entirely static, whilst P & A each change over a number of years in a way I personally understand.)
- Tolstoy is rude about the appearances of so many characters in a way I can rarely recall from a serious writer. Some of these descriptions perhaps sound more pejorative nowadays, but there are people described as unattractive etc. At the start he also seemed fixated on describing characters' mouths but this has now worn off.
- Given the size of the book I do miss inclusion of significant characters from the middle and working classes in a way that wouldn't really be fair comment on a 300 page novel, or about one which wasn't so frequently described as all-encompassing, “a complete picture of the Russia of its day” etc. Tolstoy, and some of the protagonists, are evidently sympathetic to improving the lives of peasants, but it's all much more distant and marginal than in his English counterparts. (And probably worse conditions: a minor character recounts that he gave three families of house serfs for a pedigree hunting dog. How did their living conditions – as serfs or freemen - compare with those of Industrial Revolution factory workers? Tolstoy is not the place to find out.)
- Never would have occurred to me until I saw it frequently repeated in user reviews that W&P is not a typical novel. Perhaps because of the sort of thing I've been reading, it seems rather conventional in all but size. The other day I found that Will Self had written a rather good introduction to an edition of The Master & Margarita. Among other things he had phrased much better, and embellished, an idea I was also trying to get at in another post a few weeks ago. ...quite as wrongheaded as imagining Tristram Shandy and Don Quixote to be precursors of literary postmodernism. The truth is that all styles and modes of fictionalising were attempted before the crystallisation of the social-realist novel in the nineteenth century; that this one mode has become a deadening - near-Stalinist – orthodoxy says much about the extent to which literature is the complaisant poodle of post-Enlightenment progressivism, and very little about the rites that may be performed at the altar of high art.
- It requires a sort of zen will to endurance that's something I associate with learning or re-learning certain physical skills more than with reading. Though I remember noticing it when I read The Luminaries (830 pages) a couple of months ago. (Also, I reckon Catton got her "infinite sky" - at the start - from W&P.)
- Getting way ahead of myself! Was browsing editions of Proust.
- I'd agree with whoever it was who told me a few years ago that War & Peace isn't difficult, it's just long. It's much like sitting through a classical symphony by a composer not quite to my taste; the structural co-ordination is the most impressive thing about it.

2 Oct.
Why I Prefer Edmonds' Translation over P&V
Being someone who's picky about translations, I know very well how highly praised Pevear & Volokhonsky are. I read whole preview samples of as many translations as possible before choosing the one I'll read, and theirs jars and reads as if it was done by someone with an imperfect knowledge of English. On the first page alone I found three choices which sounded wrong. (I did, however, like the decision to show French in the main text and translate it in the footnotes, no doubt reflecting the effect of the original.)
- grippe was a new word then, used only by rare people
"Rare people"? Is Tolstoy's Russian word as comparatively odd in the context of the language's normal usage?
Edmonds: "grippe being then a new word used only by a few people". That sounds quite right.
- the entering prince replied
Does the Russian also feature a potential double entendre?
Edmonds: "replied the prince as he came forward". Reads smoothly - I can concentrate on this without starting to imagine porn/ Carry on Russia.
- which are proper to a significant man who has grown old...
significant? Again, it's just not the word we use. Edmonds: "a distinguished man who has spent a long life"
There are many more as it goes on, needless to say.

I want something I can read without constantly editing in my head and being distracted: that's what Edmonds provides. Perhaps if I were re-reading, a P&V edition with extensive footnotes on their word decisions would be interesting and educational, but it is not the text for me if I want simply to read a novel.
2 vote antonomasia | Nov 3, 2013 |
A true gem of a book. It took me 2 years to complete but it was well worth it. ( )
  hanhuang10 | Oct 29, 2013 |
Does this novel truly need my five-star review? NO. Simply one of the best works of fiction ever written. ( )
  ErinKennedy | Sep 29, 2013 |
I've tried to read this thing a billion times. Life's too short.
  KateBond | Sep 20, 2013 |
I'll remark on this further after I've reread it in this newer translation. ( )
  auntieknickers | Sep 12, 2013 |
Before I turned the last page of this massive volume, which had been neglected in my bookshelves for more than six years, War and Peace was a pending task in my mental reading universe knowing it to be one of the greatest Russian or maybe simply one of the greatest novels of all times.
Well, in fact, it was something else.
I have a selective memory, I don’t know whether it comes as a blessing or as a curse, that enables me to remember the most insignificant details like for instance, where and when I bought my books, which are often second hand copies. When I pull one of them off my shelves it usually comes loaded with recollections of a certain moment of my life that add up to the mute history of their usually worn and yellow pages.

So, War and Peace was also a memory. This one had to do with an unusual cloudless and shiny afternoon spent in Greenwich Park eating the greatest take-away noodles I had ever tasted and browsing through my newest literary purchases, recently bought in one of those typical British second-hand bookshops, where I spent hours besotted with that particular scent of moldy ancient paper.
That’s what War and Peace meant to me until I finally shook my sloth off and decided to read it. It turns out I rather lived than read it, or maybe the book read me, but in any case, I curse my lazy self for not having taken the plunge much sooner.

This book is an electroshock for the soul. There is no division between Tolstoy’s art and his philosophy, just as there is no way to separate fiction from discussions about history in this novel. Without a unifying theme, without so much a plot or a clear ending, War and Peace is a challenge to the genre of the novel and to narrative in history. Tolstoy groped toward a different truth- one that would capture the totality of history, as it was experienced, and teach people how to live with its burden.
Who am I?, What do I live for?, Why was I born? These are existential questions on the meaning of life that restlessly impregnate this “novel”, which also deals with the responsibility of the individual, who has to strive against the dichotomy of free will as opposed to the influence of the external world, in the course of history. Fictional and historical characters blend naturally in the narration, which occasionally turns into a reasoned philosophical digression, exploring the way individual lives affect the progress of history, challenging the nature of truth accepted by modern historians.

Tostoy’s syntax is unconventional. He frequently ignores the rules of grammar and word order, deliberately reiterating mannerisms or physical details to identify his characters, suggesting their moral qualities. He uses several languages gradually changing their sense, especially with French, which eventually emerges as the language of artifice and insincerity, the language of the theater and deceit whereas Russian appears as the language of honesty and seriousness and the reader becomes a privileged witness of the formation of a community and national consciousness.
In repeating words and phrases, a rhythm and rhetorical effect is achieved, strengthening the philosophical pondering of the characters. I was emotionally enraptured by the scene in which Count Bezukhov asks himself what’s the meaning of love when he glances at the smiling face of Natasha or when Prince Andrey lies wounded in Austerlitz battlefield looking up at the endless firmament, welcoming the mystery of death and mourning for his hapless and already fading life. The book is full of memorable scenes which will remain imprinted in my retina, eternal flashing images transfixing me quite: the beauty of Natasha’s uncovered shoulders emerging from her golden dress, the glow of bonfires lit by kid-soldiers in the night before a battle, the agony of men taken prisoners and the absent faces of circumstantial executioners while shooting their fellowmen, the unbearable pain of a mother when she learns of her son’s death, a silent declaration of love in a dancing embrace full of youth and promise…

War and Peace is much more than a novel. It is a vast, detailed account - maybe even a sort of diary or a confession- of a world about to explode in constant contradiction where two ways of being coexist: war and peace. Peace understood not only as the absence of war, but mainly as the so much coveted state in which the individual gets hold of the key to his identity and happiness, achieving harmonious communion with others along the way.
Now that I have finally read this masterpiece, I think I can better grasp what this “novel” represents among all the great works of art created by men throughout our venturesome existence: the Sistine Chapel or the 9th Symphony of Literature, an absolute triumph of the creative mind, of the spirit of humankind and a virtuous affirmation of human life in all its richness and complexity.

My battered copy of War and Peace and I have fought many battles together, hand in hand. We have been gently soaked by the descent of moist beads in the misty drizzle at dawn in Paracas. We have been splashed by the salty waves of the Pacific Ocean only to be dried off later by the sandy wind blowing from the dunes of the Huacachina Desert. We have been blessed by the limpid droplets dripping down from branches of Eucalyptus Trees in the Sacred Valley of the Incas and scorched by the blinding sunbeams in Nazca.
Particles of ourselves were left behind, dissolved into the damp shroud of grey mist falling from the melting sky in MachuPicchu, and whatever remained of us tried to breathe in deeply the fragrant air of those dark, warm nights spent under scintillating stars scattered endlessly down the Peruvian sky.

With wrinkled pages, tattered covers and unglued spine, my copy of War and Peace has managed to come back home. I have just put it back reverently on my bookshelf for literary gems, where I can spot it at first glance. An unbreakable connection has been established between us as fellow travellers, as wanderers of the world. Somehow, we have threaded our own unique history; an unrepeatable path has been laid down for us. The story of this particular shabby copy comes to an end though, because I won’t ever part from it. My copy of War and Peace has come back home, where I intent to keep it, now for good. No more war for these battered pages but everlasting peace emanating from my shelves for all times to come. ( )
1 vote Luli81 | Sep 6, 2013 |
I cannot say I thought highly of this book. It was very 1860ish and I simply don't appreciate the style and mood of those type books. I cannot say I thought the book as good as The Forsyte Saga, e.g., though War and Peace has a much greater reputation. Yet I would be a hypocrite if I said I liked it better. [I started the book in 1953 and then not till March of 1955 did I resume reading in it. I should have read it from beginning to end without such a big gap in the time I spent reading ir.] ( )
  Schmerguls | Aug 2, 2013 |
So ultimately, what do we have here? Over the course of 3.5 weeks in the summer of 2013, I spent 1-2 hours of my life each day (on average) to read the behemoth that is War & Peace. And to what end? To make me a better person? To the extent that being better-read can make you a better person, I suppose so.

Tolstoy, if he cared to (he wouldn't), would ask, "What caused Blake to read this book? Was it really his decision?" He would say not. He would say that it was the product of hundreds or thousands of little movements and actions on the part of the most insignificant lumberjack, miller, typesetter, teacher, parent, teacher of my parents, parents of my teachers, cafeteria worker in the school at which my teachers and parents attended, et al. that led me to this moment. He would then spend 50-100 pages criticizing historians for saying it could be any other way. And he would throw in an epic love story somewhere in his analysis and it might become another seminal work of world literature.

In all sincerity, I feel too insignificant to be able to meaningfully critique this book. But as with most of my reviews I want to register my thoughts and impressions so that I can personally look back on them. My thoughts on W&P are that it is most definitely not perfect, despite being captivating, heartbreaking, and magnificent in every sense of the word. A "Four-and-a-half" would be my ideal rating because "Four" is too low, but so it goes. It joins 90 or so other books among my favorites of all time.

Having heard of Tolstoy in general and of this book in particular for over half my life (or since I read [b:Crime and Punishment|7144|Crime and Punishment |Fyodor Dostoyevsky|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347560919s/7144.jpg|3393917] in high school), I am proud of myself for finally reading it. It looms as one of those monuments of literature that every serious book-lover should read at some point, maybe as sort of an initiation. Overriding my pride, however, were my delight and amazement at encountering such a compelling and moving story, with characters whom I loved and for whom I suffered. In other words, it was not anything like the slog I half-feared upon beginning.

It was the soap opera aspect of the novel that most impressed me, particularly how much I found myself enjoying it. The only other story I've read that was even close in this respect was [b:One Hundred Years of Solitude|320|One Hundred Years of Solitude|Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327881361s/320.jpg|3295655], but Tolstoy's focus on just four or five characters over 15 years sets W&P apart. Such a tight focus allows you to know them intimately and grow with them over time, as opposed to Garcia's work, where you sort of feel like a parade of characters is passing in front of you and you're just there to notice them for a little while.

I'm not a soap opera fan in general, and Tolstoy used some of the worst aspects of them here -- predictability; uncanny, plot-driving coincidences -- but overall it worked well. It also bothered me that he tended to allow major confrontations and plot moments to occur off-page, only telling you later about them. But it's a quibble. The bottom line is that you love Pierre, Natasha, Andrei and even Nikolai and Marya at times. Their development is believable and organic. The details of their lives and personalities are crystal clear.

The war segments are also compelling although they suffer in comparison due to the lack of one or two characters who you really care about (Nikolai and Andrei make appearances but really play incidental roles). However, Tolstoy mostly makes up for it with his descriptions of battle and his biting commentary on the pathetic reality of military order and history, for him a complete sham.

These were the scenes that offered some of the most rewarding moments for reflection. Yes, his theory of history is repetitive and overly deterministic at best, yet some of his points are not only salient but difficult to refute: the fact that no commander-in-chief, neither Napoleon nor Alexandor nor Kutuzov or anyone else actually controlled any of the troops in a meaningful way; that the reasons for sending hundreds of thousands of people to their deaths were unpardonably weak; the incomprehensibility of battle as opposed to the narratives that emerge afterward. These are all vital statements on war and existence, and Tolstoy delivers them with the artfully effective touch of a master.

Moreover, the war segments had me realizing that this is one of the first existentialist/nihilistic works of literature, something I didn't know going into it. I know Tolstoy studied Schopenhauer during the writing of W&P, but when reading Camus, Sartre, Nietzche, or even Dostoyevsky, I haven't often seen Tolstoy's name mentioned among them for his existentialist tendencies. You certainly see the seeds of [b:Catch-22|168668|Catch-22|Joseph Heller|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1359882576s/168668.jpg|814330] in the absurdities catalogued here, or even the mystical ramblings of the film "The Thin Red Line." I had no idea that Tolstoy was one of the first.

The difference between Tolstoy and those other authors is that none of them can give you goosebumps as Tolstoy does when after 1000 pages of torment and suffering for the Russian troops, you see Kutuzov obtain one of his most cherished goals:Bolkhovitinov first reported in detail what he had been ordered to.

"Speak, speak quicker, don't torment my soul," Kutuzov interrupted him.

Bolkhovitinov told him everything and fell silent, awaiting orders. Toll began to say something, but Kutuzov interrupted him. He wanted to say something, but suddenly his face shriveled, wrinkled; waving his hand at Toll, he turned the other way , to the corner of the room with its blackened icons.

"Lord, my Creator! Thou hast heeded our prayer. . ." he said in a trembling voice, clasping his hands. "Russia is saved. I thank Thee, Lord!" And he wept.

(Vol.IV, Part Two, Ch. XVII)I also had another interesting experience with this book, which was an awakening as to the importance of the translation. I began with the Wordsworth Classic edition which used the Maude translation. However, the print was too small and I suspected it was causing headaches so I borrowed the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation from the library, ignorant of what it might mean to change translations "midstream." The difference is unmistakable. Whereas the former exuded a sterile formality, the latter ebbed and flowed in such a natural way, seeming to much more closely approximate Tolstoy's authentic style. Or perhaps it's not more authentic, but it's certainly more enjoyable. I will definitely be seeking their version of [b:Anna Karenina|15823480|Anna Karenina|Leo Tolstoy|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1352422904s/15823480.jpg|2507928].

As a closing thought, I also must say that I really loved how unabashedly Tolstoy attacked Napoleon throughout the second half of the book. My knowledge of post-revolutionary French history is poor so I can't confirm or refute any of Tolstoy's arguments, but they were still richly entertaining and I admire his audacity. And in general, this book has done more to teach me about Russian society and history than the 15 or so other Russian books I've read combined. On top of its narrative merits, it works as an amazingly informative portrayal of one of the most formative eras of the Slavic people. ( )
  blake.rosser | Jul 28, 2013 |
Good, but no Anna Karenina ( )
  Brendan.H | Jul 21, 2013 |
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