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Monday, April 14, 2008

How to write one's thoughts from a book that is almost 1500 pages? And a book that took one almost five months to read? This book is regarded as a classic, and I found that to be true. The stories of five main families are followed for a number of years, through two huge wars and major changes in Russia. In addition to these main threads (which are surprisingly consistent and relatively easy to follow), there are thoughts on the wars and why they happened, commentary about why certain people are leaders and why others do not lead but simply seek power. Tolstoy's philosophy and view of his own people, history, and God become clear in various statements and reflections throughout the work.

Tolstoy manages to include thoughts from just about every subject: geography, history, philosophy, relationships, religion, politics, government, marriage, happiness... quite amazing. (Although if you have 1400+ pages, I suppose it's a bit easier to wield such a wide brush.) And even more amazing is that all these various topics come together to form one coherent masterpiece. The first few hundred pages were confusing, because most of the important, reappearing characters (somewhere between 20 and 35) have at least a couple names. First and last names and nicknames and titles. Very confusing if you aren't yet used to it, and trying to figure out who is related to whom. The list of "chief families" was very helpful. The last 50 pages were also challenging to read, because they are all about philosophy of war - why it happens, what it means, who has power, what power is .. not quite what I expected at the end of this epic. An overall enjoyable book, worth the effort to read it and remember who is who. I think it's even possible that I'll read it again. someday .. in a few years... :)

As for characters I'd like to remember: Natasha Rostov, who transforms from a young child into a beautiful woman, has a deep impact on numerous men, namely Prince Andrei and Pierre. She cares well for her family, has deep passions, sings beautifully, and is able to love others well when she turns her focus outward. Pierre Bezukhov, who is thrust into wealth unprepared early in life. This brings about many changes, and eventually sends him searching for the meaning in life. He and his wife have a rocky relationship, and he becomes a mason, seeking for truth. He eventually finds truth and hope when he becomes a prisoner of war and is forced to live with so little, after having everything he wanted. He discovers that man can choose to be happy in any circumstances and comes back a much wiser man. Princess Marya Bolkonskaya, who grows up with a father who can do nothing but criticize. She loves him and treats him well, in spite of his rudeness to her. She turns to God for solace, and even though she is physically plain, her eventual husband sees her as beautiful because inside she is deep and has known real suffering. Count Nikolai Rostov, brother to Natasha. He joins the army and spends much of his time fighting, and being with his men, and learning that the real power is not in those men who discuss decisions, but in those who actually act at the right moments. He grows up being able to do just about anything that he wants, but becomes much more responsible and able to think for himself instead of just following those around him. He even learns how to work the land, and at the end of the book works well with the peasants he is in charge of, being a good master who actually works with them and values them. Prince Andrei Bolkonskaya, who is raised with Princess Marya but doesn't have nearly the same experience. He knows he cannot please his father, and goes through various stages. He is in the army and gets shot, and when he returns wants nothing more than to spend his days on his land, making the place more beautiful and caring well for his peasants. Marries young, and has a child, but his wife dies in childbirth. He falls in love again, with natasha, but an unfortunate plan to elope by her (because of another man with evil intentions) stops their marriage. He goes to war again and is badly injured, and ends up being cared for by Natasha and his sister .. who grow to love each other through the experience together. This is one (of many) characters who dies, but he has the power to bring others together and to speak truth in a way that can be understood and believed.

Title:War and Peace
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Date published: 1869 (trans. 1968)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Number of pages: 1455
Notes: present from parents


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