Many reviewers on Goodreads compared reading War and Peace to climbing a mountain which is a very good analogy. I spent almost six months reading War and Peace and I don’t think I could have read it any faster. I frequently needed to take breaks from the story to either process or read something completely different.
Considered one of the greatest writers of all time, Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 and died in 1910. Published as a series between 1865-1869 in the magazine, The Russian Messenger, War and Peace is an epic-length story and considered a masterpiece. I read a Project Gutenberg version (with no pretty cover, but the boots are symbolic), but wasn’t able to determine who did the translation.
* CONTAINS SPOILERS
Over fifteen years, War and Peace portrays the lives and loves of several Russian aristocratic families during the time of the French invasion of Russia by Napoleon Bonaparte. The countless number of characters in the novel (whom I could never keep track of) include:
Count Pierre Bezukhov, a socially awkward blunderer who suddenly becomes rich and acceptable to society, but continues to be socially awkward and blunder;
Prince Andrew Bolkonski, the intelligent but ice-cold son of a retired military commander who serves in the Russian army;
Princess Mary Bolkonskaya, Andrew’s unattractive and long-suffering sister;
Count Nicholas Rostov, a handsome young man in the army who has unfortunately inherited his father’s inability to stay out of debt;
Countess Natasha Rostova who everyone loves for her lively nature and stunning neck and shoulders, apparently; and
Napoleon Bonaparte who I didn’t know would be a character and I liked very much in this story. Tolstoy does not feel the same way.
If you love soap opera-like drama with love found and lost and found again or find interesting the moral complexities of war and the art of combat, War and Peace has got it all. I enjoyed reading about life in the army, politicking in the cities and detailed accounts of the biggest battles, especially as France closed in on Moscow. However, what kept me most motivated to read (when I was sick of reading this book) was the romance. Whatever that means.
Although Tolstoy did warn us that War and Peace was more of a historical chronicle, this book seems SO unnecessarily LONG. I don’t know whether Tolstoy was being paid by the word or he just wanted to rant, but there are many long-winded diversions from the story. As one Goodreads reviewer put it: “This was worse than a textbook. This was a textbook that came with the annoying, opinionated professor built in!” Lastly, when there are some happy endings and everything gets wrapped up, the story keeps going and going and going … It has two epilogues! I buried my face in my ereader many times.
Is War and Peace worth your time and effort? Yes, if you’re patient and keep in mind that Tolstoy is not just telling a story, but also providing his opinion on myriad topics ranging from death to religion to culture to farming (for all of you who have read Anna Karenina, you’ll know what I’m talking about). I was expecting a sweeping, glamourous story and while it’s not quite that, the main characters go through dramatic changes as they ponder the meaning of life and death. Overall, War and Peace is impressive as a treatise on history and human behaviour, among other things, and this is where Leo Tolstoy shines and demonstrates his genius.
Or you could just read it for the bragging rights.