War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Genre – Historical fiction, Russian war
Rating – PG-13 for some mild references to marital affairs and violence in war sections
Synopsis – Note- I am going to take a quote from the introduction of the book to summarize this.
“The book is set in the period of the Napoleonic wars (1805 -1812) and tells of the interweaving of historical events with the private lives of two very different families of the Russian nobility – the severe Bolkonskys and the easygoing Rostovs and of a singular man, reminiscent of the author himself -Count Pierre Bezukhov.”
Pevear, Richard. (2007) Introduction. War and Peace. P. vii.
My Thoughts –
This is such a tough book to review as there was so much that happened in the 1215 pages. This was one of the largest books I have ever read and it takes a while to actually get going. It is a slow, thoughtful novel that reflects the lives of the Russian people during a chaotic time in their history.
On one of the first pages we are given a long list of characters that I thought for sure I would never remember. I think roughly half-way through I stopped looking at the character list as by then you kinda know who everyone was.
Some characters have a big developmental arc as there was plenty of time to have them grow especially Natasha and Pierre. I actually really enjoyed Natasha’s character despite her being a little self-centered. She just felt very realistic, and I loved her with Andrei.
Now the whole set up can be very bothersome at times. Basically you get a volume or section about the character’s social life then it will jump to a section about the war. Some of the war bits got to be pretty dull as Tolstoy would insert his opinion about who the real culprit was for the wars or now Napoleon was or wasn’t great etc.
There was a character’s death that was very tearful and poignant. I wished Tolstoy had not killed that particular character. I so wanted him to make amends with another character. We do get to see a change in him though.
Lastly, I do want to mention that there are some interesting and thought provoking discussions on religion that surprised me. One character does convert to Mormonism, but does turn around from that. A couple characters believe in God (hard to tell whether they are Christian or Catholic). Forgiveness was a minor theme as well.
Not much, a couple rumors about a wife being unfaithful (We don’t really find out if this was true) One character wore revealing dresses. At one point a character hatches a plan to elope with someone despite the fact that he was already married. (Thankfully, the plan is stopped before it happens).
There were a couple missuses of the Lord’s name and couple mild uses of language. Also note one word is used a couple times, but refereed to a female dog. Just how the word was used back then.
There are sections were we get a look at what battles were like. Several characters were shot, bled, and cut. We are also told that there were many dead bodies laying on the battlefield. At one point a character gets hurt due to a cannonball exploding. Horses are killed for food. Also there was a gun duel where a character was grazed by a bullet. We are also told about an amputation.
All that, to say that this is a classic, and it should be read at some point in your life. I had wanted to tackle this novel for awhile now. After reading a bunch of fluff, I wanted something that I could sink my teeth into and really dig in. This definitely fit the bill. I’m glad I read it, but also totally done with it. There are some great sections that would make for some good discussions about religion, where power comes from, and who controls history. Was kinda cool to see what Russian life was like during that time. Probably more aimed at adults just due to subject matter and size.
So, have you tackled any classics recently? What is your favorite classic? Thoughts on War and Peace?