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War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

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War and Peace is a novel by Leo Tolstoy, first published from 1865 to 1869, which tells the story of Russian society during the Napoleonic Era. It is usually described as one of Tolstoy's two major masterpieces (the other being Anna Karenina) as well as one of the world's greatest novels.

War and Peace offered a new kind of fiction, with a great many characters caught up in a plot that covered nothing less than the grand subjects indicated by the title, combined with the equally large topics of youth, marriage, age, and death.
While today it is considered a novel, it broke so many novelistic conventions of its day that many critics of Tolstoy's time did not consider it as such. Tolstoy himself considered Anna Karenina (1878) to be his first attempt at a novel in the European sense. - Wikipedia.

War and Peace centers broadly on Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812 and follows three of the best-known characters in literature: Pierre Bezukhov, the illegitimate son of a count who is fighting for his inheritance and yearning for spiritual fulfillment; Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, who leaves behind his family to fight in the war against Napoleon; and Natasha Rostov, the beautiful young daughter of a nobleman, who intrigues both men. As Napoleon’s army invades, Tolstoy vividly follows characters from diverse backgrounds —peasants and nobility, civilians and soldiers— as they struggle with the problems unique to their era, their history, and their culture. And as the novel progresses, these characters transcend their specificity, becoming some of the most moving —and human— figures in world literature.

This dense ultimate classic has 1460 pages.

Price: $7.95

A complex and beautiful novel

This book is long and complex with many characters and relationships, but that is also what makes this book such a masterwork. Like a well aged wine, the complexity and depth of the flavors can overwelm even an experienced person. This does not mean that you should shy away from this work. Do not let the length of this book deter you from such a wonderful book.

- Sleazy P.

Great Challenge

I must have read the first twenty pages of this book about ten times before I committed to reading this mammoth and complex work. I'm glad I did!

Tolstoy is an absolute genius and unlike a James Joyce his work is accessible and relatively straight forward. Tolstoy doesn't try to make the work overly intellectual but because of his towering abilities he is able to create a textured, thoughtful and compelling masterpiece. He is able to exhibit his intellect without alienating the reader.

I took several Russian history classes in college and knowing the background of this period was invaluable. The Russian sensibility is distinctive and varies from European thought significantly. Tolstoy is able to convey these differences without losing the reader.

Set aside some time to tackle this book!

- BigT "READREADREAD"

A review in one word: WOW

Potential reader: do not be daunted by the length of W&P! At over 1200 pages, this is, truly, a long work. Nonetheless, it is worth every second spent. I cannot comment on particular translations personally, but I am led to believe this one (the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation) is the best, based on various recommendations from critics, such as James Wood's excellent review in the New Yorker. On to the book itself:

With each page, I must confess my jealousy of Tolstoy grew immensely. By the end, one sits in sheer awe of the Master's writing ability. By far the most notable strength of Tolstoy's is his ability to craft characters; I have read no other author outside of Shakespeare and Milton (with his Satan from "Paradise Lost") able to create real men and women as well as Tolstoy. I cannot claim to be a Shakespeare expert, but I would rate Tolstoy's character-crafting even higher than the Bard's, though I am aware this is not a popular judgement.

Pierre, a corpulent and intelligent misfit in Russian high society; Prince Andrei, a dark, pessimistic, and arrogant (yet strangely tender) nobleman; and Natasha Rostov, a caring, complex, and often infuriating young woman, are the three standouts. To be sure, there are myriad other characters of interest (Nikolai Rostov, Princess Marya, Field Marshal Kutuzov, etc.), but the three aforementioned go beyond mere characters, metamorphosing into real, flesh-and-blood human beings. All three are fictional, unlike many of the other characters, and yet all three are more lifelike than perhaps any other literary creations.

Tolstoy's powers go further, however. The language is wonderful; though a translation, the explanatory notes offered at the beginning by Richard Pevear give one a greater sense of Tolstoy's language, especially his use of repetitions; his "readings" of characters expressions (and sometimes those of inanimate objects) also work wonderfully.

One thing that might irk those who are not overly familiar in philosophical reading are Tolstoy's interpolated philosophical essays. The whole second Epilogue is a long essay on the Philosophy of History, as are chunks of the last two books. I assure the potential reader with all my heart that, even if he does not particularly enjoy these essays, the novel is worth it and warrants reading. Being a student of philosophy, I found the essays quite fascinating (notably Hegelian), but even if one despises them, the story, characters, and every other aspect of WAR AND PEACE makes repeated reading well worth it.

Along with the wonderful Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the profound Jorge Luis Borges, and the darkly insightful Fyodor Dostoevsky, Tolstoy is at the top of my list of novelists (alright, Borges isn't a novelist, but close enough!). And yet, there is something that places the Count well above even the strengths of the others, and makes WAR AND PEACE a far greater novel than even "One Hundred Years of Solitude" or "Crime and Punishment." That something is the characters, it is Pierre, it is Prince Andrei, it is Natasha or Nikolai or Kutuzov. Any one of Tolstoy's characters would warrant a marvelous rating; all of them combined make WAR AND PEACE, by a long shot, the greatest novel I have yet read.

To close, I echo Russian novelist Isaak Babel: "If the world itself could write, it would write like Tolstoy." Truer words have never been spoken of him, and I feign not outdo them.

- Mickey Callaghan

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