Tuesday, July 8, 2008

War and Peace

If you're wondering why you haven't seen a book review here recently, here's the reason. Feeling guilty about never having read this literary milestone - make that millstone - I put it at the top of my summer reading list. Weighing in at 1,455 pages, it took me nearly six weeks to get through it. For as long as Leo Tolstoy's epic novel is, it deserves the briefest of summaries:

Stupid generals lead armies to slaughter in stupid wars, while Russia's clueless elite party on.

Actually, "War and Peace" is a little more complicated than that. Tolstoy had his theories about the "law of history" and about the philosophical battle between free will and necessity, and his historical novel (the 1968 Ann Dunnigan translation) illustrates those theories.

But it is the characters - up to 500 of them - that makes this one of the world's greatest works of fiction. They are people of the early 19th century, written about in the 1860s, whose personalities are so familiar and contemporary that it is impossible not to imagine them with the faces of people we actually know.

What surprises me most about this book, which I should have read 40 years ago, is that it is not really about war, or about peace, but rather about forgiveness.

But back to the 1,455 pages. Tolstoy has a habit of beating his reader over the head with his theories, and just in case you didn't understand them the first time, he repeats them, several times. Had I been his editor, there would be about 200 fewer pages to slog through.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A plot summary curiously applicable today.