War & Peace: Review

War & Peace
by:Leo Tolstoy

For the past two months (June-July 2017) I have been slowly making my way through the tome that is War & Peace by: Leo Tolstoy. This novel is seen by many as the pinnacle of literary greatness and a reader’s highest challenge to complete. My edition of War & Peace, the Vintage Red Spine edition (ISBN 0099512246), had a grand total of 1,215 pages within the story itself and extra summaries and notes in the appendices following the original text. To be honest this is not a book that I ever envisioned myself reading or enjoying while I was growing up, however after hearing the soundtrack from Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 which is a current Broadway show based on a seventy-page section of War & Peace, I knew that I must experience this story.
            I read War & Peace with a group on Goodreads that was started to encourage people to read and experience this daunting novel. The group had a goal to read six chapters each day which allowed the entire 1,200-page novel to be completed in exactly two months. This bite sized way of consuming War & Peace in small sections each day is truly the way it was supposed to be read. Throughout this novel Tolstoy discusses heavy topics such as war and its effect both on society and on those involved, discovering your passions even when the world seems bleak, and growing up. Tolstoy’s heavy hitting philosophy should be taken slow and pondered along the way, in taking the time to think about what this 19th century writer is saying we can learn how to cope with and solve modern issues. Another advantage to consider when reading War & Peace in small sections is that you are experiencing this expansive work in the way that it was initially published in 1867.
Wikipedia photo
Tolstoy’s wisdom is laced through this novel in many different forms, through character interactions and development, and most obviously through short “essays” that appear throughout the novel. Each “essay” that is in this novel appears after a character interaction which illustrates Tolstoy’s point. In this form by seeing an example and then hearing Tolstoy’s theory and thoughts on the subject it truly gave me (the reader) a chance to grasp and appreciate his thoughts and commentary on the world and Russian society. Some moments that I particularly enjoyed reading Tolstoy’s theory about include, Andrei’s existential crisis looking up at the sky in the battlefield (pg.281), Pierre’s acceptance of the Freemason ideology, and his discussion about why events happen. Andrei’s existential crisis caused be me to re-evaluate the way I tackle daily life, now I live every day as if it were my last. While each and every bit of Tolstoy’s philosophy and theory made me think and evaluate my perspective on life and the greater world; War and Peace also brings to life 19th century Russian society and war like nothing I have read before.
            The opulence of Russia high society can be imagined from paintings and accounts from the era, though the grandeur cannot be felt more intimately than through the character’s experiences in War and Peace. During Napoleon’s invasion of Russia nothing in high society stopped, the women still dressed in elaborate gowns and hosted soirees to enjoy the company of friends and family, men still went on hunts with their packs of Borzoi, and suitors still courted the unmarried heiresses of society. The characters in the novel are written to exemplify society life and all of its glories and hardships. Characters such as Anatole Kuragin and Helene Vassilievna show the unending party of Russian society in a way that will make even the most introverted of readers yearn for society life. Men such as Andrei Bolokhonsy and Pierre Bezhukhov illustrate the role of men, and how they differ greatly. Pierre, the kind and awkward young Count spends his days cherishing learning and philosophy; while Andrei fights in the war for valor and honor of the fatherland (Russia). Natalya Rostova, Sonya, and Marya Bolokhonsky represent the “good and pure” women of that time period, through suffering and self-sacrifice Tolstoy gives us a glimpse of what a woman’s role was expected to be during the 19th century. While this role and way of acknowledging women is not right by modern standards, it gives a complete picture of Russia during this time that would be lost without such details.
My favorite edition I own: Vintage Russian Classics

            Each character that graces the page is flawed. The lack of a purely good and purely evil characters allow the reader to decide whom they like and deem good or evil. This exercise in evaluating a character’s worth, while reading shows the reality of life, no one is perfect. Each character gains their own distinct voice while the story unfolds, thus allowing the reader to find a firm footing in the novel based on character voice. Tolstoy’s prose was concise and easily comprehended which allowed his many nuanced messages to come through. Writing real and flawed characters is one thing that Tolstoy has done masterfully throughout this tome. Each character will become a part of your life and an integral part of your reading both during and after completing this novel, by the end these characters are all tugging at your heart.
            My experience with War & Peace was dictated through a desire to read it and explore all that Tolstoy had to say, which increased my enjoyment of the novel. If this is assigned or something that you are forcing yourself to read to be “well read” I think you may be trying to force it too much to fully enjoy and understand the messages within. This novel was my constant companion this past summer when I spent time doing research alone at my university away from home, each of the characters became like family to me and showed me that living alone was not “lonely”. I connected with Tolstoy’s messages and all the characters, though between Pierre and Andrei I saw myself in the novel most. Connecting to these two men was not hard at all, each are twenty years old as am I, Pierre is well read and inquisitive, and Andrei is bold and brave as I strive to be. These words that were written so long ago have made a lasting impact that changed me for the better and showed me 19th century Russia like nothing else.

Happy Reading!


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