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War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

war and peaceMany 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.

THE BOOK
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

THE STORY
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.

THE GOOD
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.

THE BAD
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.

CONCLUSION
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.

3.5/5 Stars

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19 comments on “War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

  1. Naomi
    January 14, 2015

    Well done, C.J.! But, can I just say that I will probably never read this book? I read Anna Karenina a couple of years ago, and liked parts of it, but found it also way too long. I didn’t really enjoy reading the author’s commentaries on socialism and farming, etc. It would be interesting to read about the war, though… Surely someone else has covered it in another book somewhere…

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      January 14, 2015

      Yes, surely someone else has written a book about this war. I also found Anna Karenina painfully too long, but I did also enjoy the romance and some of the issues Tolstoy write about it.

      Like

  2. The Paperback Princess
    January 14, 2015

    You did it! You can now say that you read War and Peace which is no small thing. I’m with you on the two epilogues. There is something very discouraging about thinking you’ve finished and then having an epilogue to read and then another one?? Tolstoy was messing with his readers. I read 968 pages of it and then my copy jumped to 1016. All the pages in between were missing. It took me a long time to find another copy of the same translation and I just don’t know if I have it in me to go down that road again!

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      January 14, 2015

      It’s a really long road if you ever do read it again, LOL! Maybe Tolstoy wrote two epilogues and couldn’t decide between them, so he kept them both.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. janceewright
    January 14, 2015

    I’ll probably still read this, and I’ll probably make my roomie read along with me as part of one of our challenges. This sounds like the perfect book for that.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      January 14, 2015

      This book will certainly make for an interesting roomie challenge. How much would you wager for a book this long?

      Like

      • janceewright
        January 15, 2015

        We typically just let the winner choose their prize, up to a $15 value, regardless of the book. 🙂

        Like

  4. Cleo @ Classical Carousel
    January 14, 2015

    I’ll definitely read this book again. I loved it. Tolstoy does probably seem verbose for us today, but I think people used to discuss life and philosophy more than they do today, or were at least more interested in it. I found that he brought up so many good points that I hadn’t even thought of, like how all historical chronicles are a looking back. They aren’t judged by what happened at that particular time, but how we perceive it afterwards with biases or opinions that perhaps are coloured by even a short time passing. It was eye-opening.

    Congratulations for finishing! You need to give yourself a hot cup of tea and a cookie for this accomplishment!

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      January 14, 2015

      Thank you! Tea and a cookie sounds like a perfect reward (although I may stuff myself with some chocolate cake while I’m at it). I always forget in the beginning to not judge a classic or its characters based on modern day thinnking. With this book in particular, once I let go of the idea of it as a novel and whatever expectations I had for it, I was more open to what Tolstoy wrote and could appreciate it.

      Like

  5. My Book Strings
    January 14, 2015

    Finishing War and Peace does give you bragging rights! And your review is so right; it’s a soap opera mixed with long and complex passages on anything that does not belong into a soap opera. I read an edition of this book that had another 200 pages of footnotes and explanations given by the translator. It was those notes kept me reading.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      January 14, 2015

      Wow, 200 pages of footnotes and explanations! I may have cried at that point, although some explanations would have been handy.

      Like

  6. I’m planning on reading War and Peace either this year or next year…hopefully I enjoy it more! It would be a shame to tackle such a HUGE book and then not even really enjoy it.

    Like

  7. Cedar Station
    January 14, 2015

    Awesome, you finally made it! Good for you. You’ve earned those bragging rights!

    Like

  8. Trish
    January 17, 2015

    LOL to Cedar Station’s comment above. Bragging rights for sure! I’ve been curious about this one but I’m not sure I’m up for the commitment. Your experience reading this one sounds similar to when I read Les Miserables…there were so many parts that were just long-winded rants about France/Paris/culture and it took me five months to read it (before kids). BUT I LOVED it. One of these days I’ll read War and Peace, but probably go for shorter Anna K first.

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      January 19, 2015

      Anna K is really good, but it does go off the story a bit too. I haven’t read Les Miz yet because much like W&P, I’m intimidated by its length. Maybe it will be another take-six-months-to-read books for me.

      Like

  9. DoingDewey
    January 20, 2015

    I loved Anna Karenina, so I’m thinking of joining a read-along of War and Peace. It sounds like the problems with War and Peace are similar to those with Anna Karenina, so I’m hopeful I’ll like it too. Nice job making it through this chunkster!

    Like

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