War and Peace

War and Peace, by Lev Tolstoy,  translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky

It took me 3 months, but it was completely worth it.  I'm not sure else what to say about the mother of all chunkster classics, but I'll give it a go:

We've got a cast of characters in Russia during the Napoleonic Era.  It takes a while to get to know them all!  There are three or four main families and their paths touch here and there over the course of the novel, eventually cohering into one.  The story takes years, and some of the characters change very much.  We get to know the main players so well that we sympathize with them and want them to be happy even when they're not choosing very well.

There is a lot about the war, first in Prussia, then in Russia itself.  Napoleon himself is a character, and Tolstoy has some very pointed things to say about "great men."  By the end, he is expounding on power, freedom, and war--the epilogue, which you hope will have more story in it, has essay, story, and lots more essay.  But the story part does end on a satisfactory note.

Tolstoy refused to call this work a novel.  I'm not sure what he did call it, though.  Apparently, he read Tristram Shandy (and Sterne in general) and admired it, and the footnotes say that it's "seen as a formal precursor to War and Peace."  I found this out after deciding to put Tristram off until I was done with Tolstoy, so then I felt silly.

This was not an easy novel for me to read, and I didn't love it as much as I did Anna Karenina, but I did enjoy it.  I got to love the characters, I was interested in what they did, and most of the historical war parts were quite interesting--it's just that it is not an easy or fast read.  You've got to commit.  I'm sure not everyone would think the commitment worth it, but I did.  I will certainly re-read it one day, and I hope that will be soon enough that I won't forget who is who!  I would like to be able to remember everyone's fates from the beginning next time.

I would have had an easier time if my giant, floppy paperback had been in two volumes; that would have helped a lot, because I could really only read it in two places--I had to either be sitting on the couch with plenty of time, or else in bed and therefore already tired.  Since my normal MO involves carrying a book around with me and reading on the go, I couldn't make fast progress.

An amazing, sprawling, masterwork of a novel. 

There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth.


  1. I do want to take this on someday, but not yet! Anna Karenina is on my list first. Thanks for sharing your impressions.

  2. I'd love it if more chunksters were put into editions of several paperback volumes. They did that with Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and I reread that book constantly. It would just make the books more approachable and also easier to carry about.

  3. Yeah, those old-timey folks knew what they were doing when they published books in triple-deckers!

  4. Yay! You did it. And I commend you for reading it in three months. (I've been reading W&P since June and I'm only half way through.)

    I agree that W&P is not exactly one to fit in your purse. So its size does make it inconvenient.

    Nonetheless, it is a worthy read, and I already know I want to reread it again, too.

  5. I agree, more multi-volume sets, fewer giant bricks. A good idea.

    I believe in this context all that really comes from Sterne is the idea that Digressions Are Allowed. And Tolstoy's digressions are not nearly as digressive as Sterne's. If he had really followed Sterne, by the time you got through 1,400 pages the Battle of Austerlitz would be just about to begin.

  6. Congratulations on finishing! Ruth, don't worry, I think it took me about 9-10 months to finish. Surprisingly though, Tolstoy's writing is so effective that I didn't forget a character or situation, but I was pretty engaged with the book. I can't wait to read it again!

  7. I started reading this last yr and got confused as to who is who. I made the mistake of putting the book down, so will need to start over again. I hope it start reading it in a few weeks, and did enjoy the few chapters I had read.

  8. Whew, congratulations on finishing this giant! I also like Anna Karenina more, mainly because there was o war in it. War just bores me! :)

  9. YES. War is boring. I even preferred Levin's farming politics to the boring war.

  10. Add me to the "enjoyed Anna K more" club as well...though I did enjoye W&P and I think it is an astonishing work. Took me almost three months as well. My review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2016/06/war-and-peace-by-leo-tolstoy-69-down-31.html


Post a Comment

I'd love to know what you think, so please comment!

Popular posts from this blog

The Four Ages of Poetry

A few short stories in Urdu