Revisitng Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”
How does one review a book like War and Peace knowing one can’t possibly cover every facet of a great classic. The term ‘masterpiece’ would suffice but it’s not enough given that I have spent a good deal of my lockdown time reading nearly 1300 pages.
I found it to be a visually appealing book with its larger than life settings and well rounded characters who come off the pages. Some of their attributes and conversations make the historical gap feel seamless between then and now. That’s what a marvelous piece of writing does even through some really long war scenes.
Although published in 1869, the novel is set in the period between 1805 to 1820, during Napoleon’s time and gearing up for war with France. French was the court language and all who considered themselves well bred spoke in French and Russian. Its all very charming and engaging like The Crown, with lots of drama and artistic license thrown in. Certain scenes and conversations from War and Peace tend to remind me of the movie “Gigi” where characters meet in high end parlours and parties carrying out scintillating conversations about war strategies and gossip. Its all very engaging and never dull.
A painting canvas comes to my mind when I think of this book. It covers the breadth of peace time and war, and everything in between. It’s a canvas where characters come and go, only to return later. And though daunting to look at initiallyt, the story and writing draws you in almost immediately. And thereafter, the often heard “the greatest novel ever written” became my night companion for weeks. And like a piece of mellifluous music, War and Peace had the effect of being therapeutic at many levels.
Although the story has no main character, hero or heroine, a number of memorable characters like Prince Andre Bolkonsky, Pierre Bezhukov, Natasha and Anna Pavlovna stand out. No one person takes over the story, and there is a seamless structure to how the story moves along. The characters mentioned are well rounded and conversations feel real. “When you understand everything you can forgive everything.”
Who isn’t a great admirer of Russian writers! Having lived in Moscow and imbibed some of their great culture I did a bit of reading by Chekhov, has always Tolstoy’s other great masterpiece, Anna Karanina, and recently Navolov which I read with my book club.
One couldn’t have picked a more favorable time to start reading War and Peace, given the war againt the worldwide pandemic. It’s an ideal time to use some lock down time to read arguably the best story ever written. Another thing; no point in skipping the war scenes which go into detail, as some of the best lines are there.
“You know sooner or later you will have to go across and find out what is there and beyond it, just as you must find out what lies beyond death.”
Another beautiful line: “If everybody fought for nothing but his own convictions, there wouldn’t be any wars.”
While I won’t give much away let me say while 2020 has been the year of plentiful challenges for many, reading War and Peace was not one of them.
I highly recommend the Anthony Briggs version.