WAR AND PEACE was one of those books I had wanted to read for bragging rights more than anything else. I think most people will agree that committing to, and getting through this massive tome (around 1500 pages in most versions) is an impressive accomplishment in itself. However, about 20% of the way through, I found myself truly enamored, totally drawn into this complex and incredibly well-scripted story. I didn’t expect to find myself sympathizing with, and even relating to(!), characters from a time so distant and a culture so removed from my own. This book is about the human experience, about love, life, death, and everything in between. The struggles and puzzles we face as humans, from the meaning of life to the fragility of relationships, from the existence of God to the search for True Love, are the focus of this epic drama.
A number of years ago I had challenged myself to read more of the classics. As usual, I majorly over-commited and bought myself an impressive collection that includes over 70 novels from 14 authors. Basing my selections on little more than my own opinions of what constitutes a “classic”, my collection certainly doesn’t match any standard list. From Alexandre Dumas to Mark Twain, Herman Melville to H.G. Wells, I’ve got quite the variety. As I’ve waded through this hefty list, WAR AND PEACE was one of the books on the horizon that I had anticipated with some trepidition. But while it was one of the more daunting entries on the list, it turned out to be among my favorite.
Even though set during one of the most tragic times in Russian history, with Napoleon’s seemingly unstoppable armies invading the Fatherland, most of this book reads much like a soap opera. It is as much about the drama of human interactions and personal reflections as it is about the war itself. Following Pierre, Natasha, Nicholas, Mary, and Sonya through their lives will enrich your own. Excellent as a historical fiction, but just as powerful as an exposition on the human condition, WAR AND PEACE is among the most profound and important books I have ever read. This is the kind of expereince that makes me glad I’ve chosen this sometimes difficult task I’ve set for myself.
If this book has been on your radar but you’ve hesitated to make the commitment, go for it! I think that if you can make it through the first quarter, you’ll find yourself drawn in and truly enjoy the rest (even if it takes you a couple of months). Well worth the time and effort. Be forewarned though, that Tolstoy assumes a thorough understanding of the background, particularly the history of the Napoleonic Wars. It may enhance your enjoyment if you first check out a short history book (like The Napoleonic Wars: The Empires Strike Back 1808-1812, by Todd Fisher) or Wikipedia to brief yourself on the conflict and the major battles fought during the Russian campaign. You’ll still enjoy the story if you don’t have the background, but may feel lost as Tolstoy tosses around names, places, and battles that were much more familiar to his readers at the time of this book’s serial publication.
I’m about half-way through my epic quest to conquer these classics, and some of the books I’ve read have been somewhat mediocre (to put it nicely). It’s the books like WAR AND PEACE that encourage me to see this effort through. Knowing there are gems like this one waiting in these dusty old tomes (or so I like to imagine them) keeps me going. Much like life itself, sometimes it’s the experiences you don’t much look forward to that turn out to be the most rewarding.
Pages: 1296 FoA Pages: 9458 (Total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus)