I came across one of the book reviews in this space where in the contributor qualified Leo Tolstoyas “boring writer”. The comment was withdrawn when I elucidated the travesty associated with it. A humble request to all those who consider serious literature as “heavy dose” “flying above one’s head” etc. – it is just like you have not given your full attention to it. Perry Mason Series, Chetan Bhagat, Dan Brown —- won’t demand much form you and they offer something which is well within your reach. But those precious treasures need to be excavated. It demands more but returns are invaluable. You need to excavate for years to have gold or platinum where as you will find plenty of lime stones with out much effort.
1200 plus pages, divided into four volumes and the characters speaking multiple language [there are many French Dialogues with translation], scattered thoughts, historical reference all seems to be an enigma for someone who is about to explore this one. But, that is how an epic will emanate – it is a bigger canvass of multitude of events. In simple term, it is the slice of life in front of you where chronological order need not be maintained.
The plot of the novel is the backdrop of Napoleon Bonaparte’saggressive invasion of larger Europe and his wish to expand empire over Russia that had gone vain. It is an open book regarding the cultural invasion which is being reflected through the five aristocratic families in Russia viz The Bolkonskys, the Kuragins, the Rostovs, the Drubetskoys & the Bezukhovs. It is impossible to narrate the plot and introduce dramatis personae of this novel, even if I would have loved to do it – Space constraint. Hence, I am constrained to present brief notes on my observation / reaction after reading this epic.
While narrating the lives of myriad characters [including over 150 real life characters]over a span of fifteen years, Tolstoyvividly describe the society that was undergoing rapid change in every aspect due to imminent war, the insecurity of orthodox who got trapped by the inertia of old fashioned life style etc. Even if the canvass is so big, the genius in Tolstoydwells deep into human behavior and carefully knit that with the main theme.
You are going to take a trip through the battlefield, roller coaster ride of emotional upsurge, philosophical sermon, romantic overture —- what not! Along with fictional characters, you will have many real life characters also who will represent the historical facts – all this ensure a different literary experience.
While we advances through each volume of the novel, the thin layer between history and fiction will vanish and finally we will become a character of the novel who does not participate but witnessing everything in front of your eyes.
The crystal clear and elaborate narrative style does not give any room for confusion and captures every minute detail. The major characters like Pierre who with the baggage of a powerful patriarchal lineage finding solace in the love of Natasha represent the human need to be recognized with unconditional love without qualification. Prince Bolkonsky represents the sanity and the righteousness which was needed at the time of cultural invasion. Now we have the real life character Napoleon who could not decide his fate even if he could invade major part of Europe. You will see the plot undergoing a metamorphic change from the interaction of limited characters to the larger aspects of society with a clear focus on human dynamics.
One of the most appealing aspects of the novel is that – Tolstoy established symmetry with War and Peacethroughout the entire chapters. Someone who carefully followed the novel will be able to follow this master artifact that as misunderstood as illogical scribbling with least respect to chronological order.
Also, while we begin to read the novel, lots of characters converse in French, which was depicts the way of life of Aristocratic Russians during those period. One of the characters engages a tutor to get herself acquainted with her mother tongue – Russian. But towards the end, the French dialogues are getting reduced to nil which pictorially depicts the end of French invasion of Russia. Even this was misunderstood by some critics are deliberate attempt by Tolstoy to bring in complexity in the novel.
Someone with a clear understanding of historic truth will identify the dynamics of characters synonymous to the relation between France and Russiawho were allies at one point of time but later became enemies.
War and Peace demands a lot from the reader – you should have a clear understanding about the history, political consciousness and very high degree of common sense. Clearly, these are not the reasons to say “It is not my cup of tea”.