Monday, December 26, 2011

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Title:  War and Peace
Author:  Leo Tolstoy
Translators:  Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
Pages:  1251
Genre:  Fiction, classic
Source:  My bookshelf
Why I picked it up:  This was part of a reading challenge hosted by Jillian at "A Room of One's Own".
What you'll love:  Engaging story and fantastically written characters.
What will bug you:  Some dry sections.

I can't believe I reached the end!  I did it - every word!  Something to cross off the bucket list. I'm really glad that Jillian hosted this readalong because it gave me the determination to finally read this book.  I had been so intimidated by the size (the longest book I've ever read!) that although I wanted to read it I never started.  I think spreading it out across the year was really nice.  Part of why I didn't pick it up before was because I was afraid it would be the only book I'd read for months, and I know myself well enough to realize that would make me very bored.  Spreading it out was perfect because I would focus on it intently for a week or so and then put it aside while I enjoyed something else.  Win!

I posed some discussion posts along the way.  Discussion 1 is pretty detailed.  Discussion 2 is also pretty detailed, and Discussion 3/Discussion 4 is not so much.  I may have been a bit too enthusiastic in those first two posts and totally ran out of steam!  

Overall I really enjoyed War and Peace.  Yes, it's long, but it spans a long period of time, and there are a lot of characters.  I think this translation is excellent.  I've mentioned this in other posts.  I was stuck at school one day without a book (oh no!), so I ran up to the library to grab their copy of W&P.  I was able to find my place and tried to pick up where I had left off.  It.  Was.  So.  Dry.  I was amazed.  Pevear and Volokhonsky are really able to capture the tone of the writing.  It does not feel like a translation at all.  The other edition I found at school did feel like a translation - as if the translator had just plugged the sentences into a calculator and spit out the English version.  Pevear and Volokhonsky were able to accurately translate any subtle humor or exchanges between the characters.  I recommend this translation!  I was so struck by the difference that although I already owned a copy of Anna Karenina, I went out and bought the Pevear and Volokhonsky edition!  Whenever I read something that's been translated I will research the the translator(s).  What an eye-opener!

As you may have already guessed from the title, War and Peace is kind of split between two settings.  The "peace" setting is Russian society and "war" is, well - the war.  The battlefields, the front lines, all that.  I didn't like the "war" sections as much as the "peace".  I had a hard time keeping track of what was going on during the battle scenes, and I lack the understanding of rank and "rules of war" in this time period to clearly picture how things were progressing.  It didn't help that often the "war" sections were peppered with some rather dry history.  I had an easier time picturing the "peace" sections which had more character interaction (in my opinion!).  

I think the biggest strength of W&P is the characters.  They're beautifully written!  There is a subtle way their lives intertwine that is really amazing.  Here are some thoughts on a few of the main characters...

I love Pierre.  I think he has a beautiful heart.  It's clear from the start that he's searching for some greater purpose in his life.  It's only when he becomes a prisoner of war and is scratching out a baseline existence that he really finds who he truly is.  His love for Natasha is slow-burning.  I loved reading sections focused around Pierre.

I had my ups and downs with Natasha.  Ultimately I liked her character, although it really took some time for her to grow up and look beyond herself.  (In her defense, she is rather young!)  Generally speaking she is a breath of fresh air - very different than many other young girls in her position.  She appears to love everyone and have a cheery disposition.  I think her reaction to the self-inflicted scandal with Prince Andre was over the top.  (Although, in her defense again, the time period was quite different and the scandal was a pretty big deal - possibly literally shutting down marital options for her for the rest of her life.)  I'm glad she was able to reconcile with Marie.  I was really happy at how their relationship grew.

Prince Andre:
I have mixed feelings about him as well.  In contrast to Pierre he always felt cold and stubborn.  The ultimate difference between his relationship with Natasha and Pierre's is this... Prince Andre saw Natasha as an anchor and a bright light in his life.  Her relationship with him saved him from unhappiness.  Pierre sought his own happiness and contentment before bringing Natasha into his life.  He had to save himself before inviting her in. This is a big difference.  Although I believe that Prince Andrew did love Natasha, I think that there was a certain pressure on her to lift him up, whereas Pierre lifted himself up first and then felt completely content with Natasha.  

Nikolai Rostov:
I was not a huge fan of Nikolai.  I found him to be self-absorbed throughout most of the story.  I think he was very spoiled by his parents and as a result had a very hard time seeing beyond himself.  (I thought it took a long time for Natasha to see beyond herself too.  And while we're on the topic I felt the same way about the younger brother, Petya.  Maybe the Rostovs were not the greatest parents?)  I'm not surprised that he ended up with Marie.  I think his relationship with Sonya was a little strange, especially once he came home at the end.  Not my favorite character, but an important one in the story!

My thoughts on Marie did a 180 over the course of the book.  At first I found her to be pretty "holier-than-thou" and generally weak (especially when she interacted with her father).  I saw her as selfish, especially when she disliked Natasha at the beginning.  I felt that she had a possessiveness over her brother and was unwilling to let him advance his life to the next stage.  After Prince Andre's death I started enjoying her much more.  I think her relationship with Natasha is really beautifully written.  By the end of the story I liked her so much more!

Of course there are dozens of other characters!  These are the ones who really stuck out to me, and who I felt the story was really revolving around.  

War and Peace is beautifully written.  It's no surprise to me that it's considered one of the "greats" in literature.  I'm so happy to have finally read it!    


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