Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Wisdom has no need of violence

That's right. I finally finished War and Peace, this master work by my man, Leo Tolstoy. Having read and loved Anna Karenina, I was excited about reading this book that seems to sit atop best classical book lists, daring anyone to actually read it. 

"The solitude exhausted her, tormented her; but it was necessary for her."

This book is dense and complicated and at times annoying and at other times beautiful. I love Tolstoy when he is showing the characters interacting with each other and their world and I want to smack him when he is rambling about grand ideas all on his own. 

War and Peace is about Napoleon's was in Europe that Russia got involved in and Napoleon's subsequential war on Russia, which did not end so well for him. 

"Such is the inevitable fate of all men of action, and the higher they stand in the human hierarchy, the less free they are."

There are basically two families that we follow, the Rostovs and the Bolloskys and those that are their friends, foes, and acquaintances. The Rostovs have four children, Vera (who I forgot all about until I looked at my notes, Nikolia, Natasha, and Petya and one rather mopey cousin, Sonya. Nikolia and Petya end up serving in the wars while Natasha and Sonya are more focused on battles of the heart.

"Natasha fell in love from the moment she entered the ball room. She was not in love with anyone in particular but with everyone. She fell in love with whomever she looked at, the moment she looked at him."

Andrei Bollonsky and his sister Marya are much richer and while Andrei begins married, he later becomes involved with the beautiful Natasha. Andrei also serves in the war and is determined to distinguish himself as a great hero for Russia. He goes through much spiritual and emotional change throughout the novel, and never seems to die until you want him to finally live.

"Nothing, nothing is certain, except the insignificance of everything I can comprehend and the grandeur of something incomprehensible but most important."

Also running around Russia is Pierre, the bastard son of a count who is adopted and made extremely rich. He marries a horrible woman and joins the Free Masons in his quest to find spiritual peace. While he does not serve in the army, Pierre is present at the burning of Moscow and is taken prisoner by the French.

"They could not believe it, because they alone knew what their life was for them and thereafter did not understand or believe it could be taken from them."

My main beef with this novel was the points when Tolstoy would tell me repeatedly that history is not made by the choices of great men, or any man, that free will is a bunch of bunk and that power and authority are abstract ideas. This mostly came about in the second part of the epilogue (of course the epilogue had multiple parts) where we leave the story completely and do not pick it up again. I thought that Tolstoy said everything he needed to say in the novel, and at the end was just beating me over the head with it. Perhaps this was necessary when it was originally published, but these ideas are not new to me and I did not enjoy reading twenty pages of them. It was a lot like reading John Galt's gigantic speech in Atlas Shrugged - get to the point!

"If everyone made war only according to his own convictions, there would be no war."

That being said, this novel is great for a reason. I loved Natasha, Pierre, the Rostov parents and even, at times, Marya. I loved all the little details about their lives and how the wars changed so many things for them. He does a great job of illustrating how orders given in war time matter much less than the thoughts of those who are actually in the action (and does so without preaching when focused on the actual characters).

Worth reading. I'm glad that I did and I am looking forward to reading more classics in this coming year. But first I have to finish my book about superheroes.


  1. Awesome that you read that! Yeah, this definitely is one of those books people put on their bucket list but hardly ever do. I think it's great that you actually did!

    1. It's a really great read - if you can find the time I highly suggest it. :)