Books, classics, Fiction, Reviews

BOOK REVIEW: War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

You can go on reading books after books for fifteen days or you can read Tolstoy’s undoubtedly masterpiece: War and Peace. How was it, you ask? Easier than I expected. Choosing the right translation plays a major role when you are reading books written in languages you are not familiar of.  We will talk about that more, later.

Saying that I haven’t read Tolstoy before will be an understatement since I remember my failed attempts with Anna Karenina, twice I think. The Confession is a petite novella and is lying on my shelf just like that for months. Not a single attempt-to-read yet. War and Peace is humongous. Lots of characters introduced in first few chapters will seek you attention. Don’t start this book before going to bed. Especially before going to bed when you are starting to read it. The characters introduced in those first few chapters may help you doze off to sweeter dreams, thus you might end up loosing any interest that was the result of earlier motivation.

With lots of characters comes a lot more story lines. Tolstoy does a fantastic job in describing those story lines along with timeline of historical events, recounting them deeply and the blending of the fictional characters along with the historical ones. In short I can say, War and Peace is about five families during Napoleonic War in Russia. But that doesn’t satisfy me at all. It is about a lot more than that. It explores of human emotions during various circumstances including, war, patriotism, money, love, marriage, betrayal, forgiveness, gossip, et cetera.

The book is divided into five volumes. First one starts in 1805 when Russia is at war with Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. Tolstoy introduces his list of characters at an evening gathering held by a socialite. This party introduces us to many of the characters such as Pierre Bezukhov, and Prince Andrei are major ones. The major part of the story is either played in St. Petersburg or in Moscow. Rest are shown in various fields and outposts where the French and the Russian army are getting net to neck. Tolstoy makes the reader familiar by indulging some of the major characters in war at this time. The war is interesting if Tolstoy is describing it to us. At some point in the book Tolstoy arguably defies historians and the events described by them. He certainly disliked their way of forging with historical events. He also denies the fallacy that history is a production by some great men, instead suggesting it is the result of minute moments and decisions made by a large number of men and women. Many of the events described by him are graphic and you will end up visualising them in front of your eyes just as you see reality merely by reading Tolstoy’s words.

Tolstoy explores both good and bad sides of patriotism with war. The glorifying violence and unable to think critically, radically and in other ways during the war, the self-sacrifice, one wrong movement causes, well, the whole warfare to change. Some characters are too emotional at times of war. I think in 1440 pages, Tolstoy does put this nicely about the patriotism that if patriotism for the sake of romance and glory will only lead to violence and death.

Other than the action on-field, the action revolves around marriages. The concept of marriage is shown in two ways. Married for money. Married for love. The first one certainly does end well for the couples, and not for those who married for money, but this who had money. The second one, marriage for love, is shown in true essence and takes a lot of development between the characters and their feelings. Again these events are totally circumstantial.

Believe it or not, and at first I had difficulty realising that the events described in the book are actually described by the author. I am considering here the events about alternative religion and the occult. Maybe it was the part of society at those times as I remember reading the same state of affairs in an English classic written almost at the same time as of War and Peace. I think, the occult part is conclude well and the characters involve realise that there is fulfilment outside it.

Leadership is a major role of personality played by the characters in Tolstoy’s book. A good leader can save lives of men unexpectedly, against the odds where as a bad example of leadership, no matter how much dominance in the past, today is different day, tomorrow never comes.

There are incidents when you can relate to different characters and understand the act of moral and to do good at times. I can’t say much about finding flaw with characters, I don’t think there is any. Some of the characters described in the events of this book are more than the just characters. They may stay in your memory for lifetime.

I favourably chose Anthony Briggs translation published by Penguin, though there might be a better one. Some of the other are Garnett, Maude, Dunnigon, Pevear and Volokhonsky, and others. You shall choose what suits you. I remember reading somewhere that this particular person has read War and Peace more than four or five times just because she wanted to try different translations.

In my opinion, just treat it like another book you reading, the only difference is that this one is long but over time you will forget about it’s length once you get indulge into the story. The time spent reading this book is worth and as I said, it will become a part of your memory. Read it for the writing.

5 out of 5!

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9 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy”

  1. This was an amazing book, I preferred the peace aspect of the book though, some of the lines were just sublime…although I thought the confusion in the battles was really well done. The copy I had dispensed with the patronyms which was somewhat of a relief after all the confusion i had at the start of Crime and Punishment.

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