Monday, February 22, 2010

War and Peace-Original Version

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Time for yet another book review on Magic and Mystery. This one has taken me quite some time to complete so I am pretty excited to pass on the information to you. I purchased War and Peace-Original Version by Leo Tolstoy at a Books-a-Million in St. Louis for $7 and started reading it back in August. It has been a hard read but there is much of it that I have enjoyed. Sitting at just below 900 pages though I would hardly call it a summer read! Oddly enough by purchasing the original version I may have been in error as I discovered it differs slightly from the "normal" version in several ways possibly even in the ending so for those who have read the original I would love to hear if you find any glaring differences as I review it. I shocked several people by choosing this book to read, but I am a huge fan of Dostoyevsky and I wanted to know whether this meant I was a fan of Russian literature. I decided to tackle War and Peace despite a few misgivings, because honestly, I just was not interested in Anna Karenina.

First and formost the main thing that stuck out to me as I read was that I enjoyed the "Peace" parts far more than the "War". This may be the main difference between a female reader and a male reader...or it might just be me who despises war.

The other thing I noted as I read this book is that Tolstoy seems to be very fatalistic. In writing about war he states several times that individuals do not shape history but the collective conscience does. He also talks about how things happen as they should and that they unfold regardless of people's intentions. Here is a quote near the end of the book:

"everything that happens in a matter in which many people act together does not happen according to these people's will, but according to various zoological laws. and it is not given to man to foresee their outcome."

And earlier in the book:

"Fatalism is as rational in history as it is irrational in the individual. It is no accident that Solomon's saying- ' the kings heart is in God's hand' - became proverbial"

Tolstoy appears to believe that individuals have freedom of choice, but that freedom diminishes when you gather together large groups or people. It also decreases in direct proportion to the level of power and authority that you have. In this way, Tolstoy believe that Napolean was only acting on behalf of the people and not the monster that some people of his time made him out to be.

In comparison to Dostoyevsky I would say that I find Tolstoy's writing more contrived. Dostoyevsky writes of life amidst the poor class of society and deals with the root causes of dark human issues murder, jealousy, guilt etc. Tolstoy on the other hand focuses more on upper class society and attempting to find the meaning of life amidst all of the chaos and confusion in the world. Although Tolstoy's topic is lofty and he points to God in several passages of his book I find that his philosophizing does not feel as genuine as some of Dostoyevsky's writings. That being said, I do enjoy much of what he has to say about God and the meaning of life.

"Love, compassion for one's brothers, for those who love and hate us, yes, the love that was taught by God on earth, that Princess Marya tried to teach me-that is waht would remain to me if I were to live" ~Prince Andrei

"But for me, even now when I am dying, there is nothing certain in all this except for the pettiness of all that I understand and the greatness of something else, something incomprehensible but supremely important"

And Pierre, a passionate, but bumbling man who doesn't understand a lot (but lives passionately much like Peter of the bible) says, "Yes, my friend...there is a God in heaven and good on earth"

I did fall in love with characters who came to life and leapt off the page, but I had a hard time keeping track of a few of them, because there are many people throughout the book (much like in Dickens' novels). Some of my favorites include Princess Marya a young single girl who lives with her father and longs to get married, Prince Andrei, her brother who loses his young wife in child birth and struggles with the meaning of life and Pierre the passionate bumbling idiot who society laughs at but finds amusing.

Although this book is long, and parts of it are hard to read I would recommend it to others. I would, however, recommend reading another lighter book at the same time though to balance the heaviness of this one. The next two books I am reading are "Under the Dome" By Stephen King a book about a community that gets trapped under a mysterious dome and the chaos that insues in their society (kind of like Lord of the Flies) and "The 1001 nights" aka The Arabian Nights. Make sure to check back for updates on those. Since "Under the Dome" is 1000 pages I may finish Arabian nights first!


Rebecca said...

Being an avid reader, and loving Russian literature, yet never having tackled War and Peace, you have inspired me.... I will add that to my reading list! Thanks Miranda!

Tris and Kim said...

Thanks for the I can I cross War and Peace off my list of books to read before I die, or do I actually have to read the book myself?