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The Book Club

Leo Tolstoy’s War And Peace

1. It’s a lengthy endeavour. Packing a total of 1,225 pages full of colourful dialogues and extensive narratives – excluding the historical notes and assortment of accompanying essays – it took me almost three weeks in the army to complete it. To be honest, I only genuinely got hooked onto the plot after some time of reading, because: i) the initial historical references were quite alien to me, ii) there is a huge cast of characters, and iii) Tolstoy’s dedication to details made some of the conservations and descriptions – in my opinion – quite monotonous.

2. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Their translated version (pictured) was quite outstanding.  I can’t comment on the quality or nature of the translation per se, but the subtle inclusion of the notes for the historical references made reading more pleasurable.

3. The superficiality of the aristocrats and the upper-class Russians. With all the extravagant balls and dinners – and individuals showing deep ignorance and bias in terms of the military and politics – Tolstoy is unforgiving, sometimes subtle, in his critique of the aristocrats and the upper-class Russians. The Kuragins clearly epitomise this. All the conversations between the so-called “intellects” and “upper-class” are full of fluff, with no real merit or substance through the exchanges.

4. Appreciation of frugality, honesty and fundamental mortality. Conversely, serving as an effective contrast, Tolstoy draws numerous instances where the peasants show great camaraderie and deep appreciation for life. Having Pierre Bezukhov endure moments of physical hardship and mental calibration, we are led to Platon Karataev: whom Tolstoy seems to be especially fond of. He seemingly provides Pierre with the answers that he has been consistently looking for all the time. Going beyond the superficial glosses and varnishes of life, perhaps the best way to enjoy life is to experience true life itself.

5. Pierre Bezukhov’s reprieve. Right from the start before his inheritance, Pierre is shown to be socially-awkward, unlearned – yet likeable. From his duel to his failed application of Freemasonry to his estates and planning, as he stumbles and ponders over life, Pierre struggles and ultimately finds reprieve towards the end of the book. There is irrationality; but we witness his moral and spiritual questioning that almost takes centre stage.

6. Compare and contrast. Naturally, characters are juxtaposed with one another: Pierre Bezukhov with Prince Andrei Bolkonsky (in terms of their dispositions and philosophies towards life), Natasha Rostov with Helene Kuragina (in terms of their attitudes, spontaneity and motivations).

7. General Kutuzov. Patience and time; time and patience. Tolstoy has a great deal of respect for Kutuzov because of his flexibility and refusal to stick stubbornly to a single plan of action. His moves are calculated and considered, and is definitely not afraid to react to different situations and have his actions catered towards them. Tolstoy also shows great appreciation for the man’s religious and spiritual faith; another strongly recurring theme in the book.

8. Fantastic detail shown to the battle scenes. Enjoyed the Battles of Austerlitz and Borodino.

9. Imperfect love. Even at the end, it is shown that the marriages between Natasha Rostov and Pierre Bezukhov, Mary Bolkonskaya and Nikolai Rostov are not without their fair share of difficulties and disagreements. Natasha’s ability to adapt and fit into her new role highlights the importance of adapting to circumstances and reacting to them, rather than remaining constant.

10. “Every action of theirs, that seems to them an act of their own freewill, is in the historical sense not free at all but is bound up with the whole course of history and preordained from all eternity“. Tolstoy’s book is also a critique on the general approaches towards history: particularly de-emphasising the supposed crucial roles played by historical leaders such as Alexander I and Napoleon. He gives tremendous credit to the ordinary man and woman who played equally important parts in the entire journal of history. The limits of leadership; the chains of circumstance.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


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