Friday, March 17, 2017

What I Read in March 2016 Part V

What I Read in March 2016 Part V. . .

War and PeaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy--Classic/Historical Fiction/Historical Romance

Tolstoy's sweeping history/soap opera set during the years 1805-1812, when Russia was involved in the Napoleonic Wars. The war affects the lives of the fictional characters so that nothing will ever be the same again.

This is a hard book to review. I didn't read every word or even every page. I was far more interested in the soap opera plot than the military history. If I wanted to read military history, I would pick up a book on military history. I can even read Tolstoy's sources, granted they're translated to English. The long, long military history passages were incredibly tedious and boring. I also did not care for the lengthy philosophical passages at the end. I skipped part II of the epilogue. By that point I was so done with this book! The moral and religious overtones didn't thrill me either but they are to be expected in a 19th century novel.

Where the writing really shines is in the soap opera worthy plot. Right away we learn about current events through the gossip of the characters. I really liked this technique. The scene not only introduced the reader to the main characters but to the historical background against which the plot is set. At times the writing is witty and the plot is so engaging I read longer than I intended. This translation is excellent. It retains as much of the original French and German text as possible and attempts to capture Tolstoy's words accurately. I liked the use of footnotes to learn more about the background and to translate what I couldn't understand. The free translation on Project Guttenberg is not as correct and does not have footnotes.

It was difficult to keep track of all the characters at first but a handy cheat sheet in the beginning of the novel helped. I did find the use of titles, names and nicknames for a single person a little confusing and it would have helped if those names were included in the cheat sheet. I caught on eventually and even managed to remember who the fictional characters were. I lost track of the real life figures except for Napoleon and Alexander I. I really liked the fictional Rostov family. They're very kind and loving towards each other and good friends to those who need it. I was charmed by the sweet, loving Natasha Rostova. The young Countess is the best judge of character as a child and she's the peacemaker of the family, always trying to calm someone down and reassure them. She does have a moment of weakness as a teenager that made me want to slap her and then she goes through a period of depression that isn't much fun to read about but I still felt some affection for her. I was a little surprised by the ending to her story. Her older brother Nikolai is a young man of good looks but isn't terribly vain about it. His plot is a young man's coming of age. He had a lot of growing up to do during the course of the story. I wasn't thrilled with his ending. I didn't see his character evolving that way. Natasha's cousin Sonya is sweet and lovely. She's a poor relation but treated kindly, for the most part. She's in love with Nikolai but the course of true love ne'er did run smooth. She's a little too Fanny Price-ish towards the end of the novel. Young Petya is lively and foolish as most young boys are but I liked him during his brief appearances on page.

I also loved Princess Marya Bolkonsky. She's a plain looking heiress who has no opportunity to try to attract men because her eccentric father keeps her at home in the country where he can bully her. Marya is strong in her Faith and never wavers. She needs it to keep her going throughout the course of the story. Sometimes I found her a little TOO good but she does have moments when she's not perfect and I appreciated that. I thought she should be a bun but she wanted someone to love her and a family of her own so I wanted that for her. I was quite surprised by her ending and wasn't entirely thrilled with it. Marya's sister-in-law, Liza, is also a sympathetic character. She's young, pregnant with her first child, terrified because everyone has been filling her head with horror stories and upset at having to leave behind all she knows in the city and move to the country with people she barely knows while her husband marches off to battle. I had a low opinion of her husband, Prince Andrei, at that point. Liza seems very sweet and though not very bright, she is likable.

My favorite male character is Pierre, Count Bezukhov. He's a lost soul who wants to be a good person but doesn't have the strength of character to do it. He's a philosopher at heart and has some good mentors who try to help him find his path. I was rooting for him to find his way and achieve happiness. I identified with his status as a misfit. Another male character I liked was Vasily Dmitrich Denisov. He's a soldier but not hardened by experience. He's fun and cheerful and I enjoyed him. He gets completely dropped for a huge chunk of the novel and I was left wondering if he was still alive and what happened to him.

The other leading male character is Prince Andrei Balkonsky. I have complicated feelings about him. In the beginning I found him rather arrogant and disliked how dismissive he was of his wife and sister's feelings. However, when he was close to death he became philosophical and I really liked him then. His thoughts are some of the most beautiful writing in this novel. At times he was also too proud and not very kind. Towards the end of the book, I liked him much better but then he became philosophical and discovered God, of course, before he can have an ending to his story.

Boris Drubetskoy is another major male character. Though noble, he is impoverished and seeks money and power where he can. I found him too pompous and calculating to be appealing. His story doesn't come to a satisfactory end. He gets dropped in the wrap-up of too many characters.

The single worst character in the novel is Princess Elena Vasilyevna (Hélène) Kuragina. She's completely despicable. She's very beautiful and knows it and is able to use her beauty to her advantage. She's horrid to another character I liked and even toys with a young girl's feelings, knowing the girl would be ruined. Her entire family is revolting. Her father is calculating, toad-eating and crazy and her rakish brother Anatole is selfish and without a conscience.

I liked parts of this book but not the whole of it. It's way too long to read again. I watched some of the mini series on TV recently and I'll finish watching but it was a little too racy for me. I want to track down the BBC version from 1972.

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