Yes, I am reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy! It was on my reading list for such a long time … I just needed a recommendation from a good friend (thank you, Elena!), a persuasive Ted-ED video, and loads of motivation to start reading this masterpiece. Now here I am, end of August 2017, reading the first pages of War and Peace.
As this book is long and complex, I decided to treat it differently when it comes to how I share my thoughts about it. So instead of writing a book review after reading it, I will update this reading journey weekly or every two weeks, depending on how much I manage to read (no spoilers included!).
Just some technical details before we get going. I am reading a paperback copy from Wordsworth Editions that I bought during a trip to Cambridge (it has 994 pages and it is translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude). To make it look more classy, I am using a beige suede book cover – it actually motivates me to read more 🙂 When I’m not at home, I use LiteraturePage.com or Adelaide ebooks website to read on my phone or laptop (yes, you can find the book online for free, as it is part of the Public Domain).
§ Date: 30.08.2017, pages read so far: 154 (approx. 15%)
I begin my journey with positive thoughts – the book is much more readable than I thought. From my point of view, this happens because of two main reasons:
- the language has a good flow, I like the translation I’m reading
- the book is very structured – it is split into volumes, volumes are split in books, books are split into chapters (each chapter having 3-6 pages), thus you have the feeling that you are making progress quickly
While reading the book I realized that I need to brush up a little my history knowledge, so I did a bit of research about the Napoleonic Wars. These two Youtube videos (video1 and video2) were very useful in helping me understand the historical context.
And a piece of random information: I learned the difference between infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Infantry represents soldiers fighting on foot, cavalry represents soldiers fighting on horses, and artillery represents soldiers that were using large guns/cannons (Quora).
§ Date: 10.09.2017, pages read so far: 270 (approx. 30%)
The good news is that I still enjoy reading the novel. The not-so-good news is that things are getting more and more complicated 🙂 Don’t get me wrong, I like complex novels, but War and Peace takes it to a whole new level. There are many characters (more than 500 in total) and I find it impossible to keep track of them. So I came to the conclusion that I am at peace with the idea of understanding only the main storylines and the main characters.
Even though the chapters that describe solely war scenes are more difficult to follow, I continue to find out interesting war-related things. This time, I learned about different fighters mentioned as part of the Russian army:
Uhlan = cavalryman armed with a lance as a member of various European armies (Oxford Dictionaries)
Cossack = member of a people of Ukraine and southern Russia, noted for their horsemanship and military skill (Oxford Dictionaries)
Hussar = soldier in a light cavalry regiment which had adopted a dress uniform modelled on that of the Hungarian hussars (Oxford Dictionaries)
One last thing I want to mention for this week’s entry is that Tolstoy had a subtle sense of humour that I really like, there are many times I’m smiling while reading his book. For example, this is how he described a situation when one of the commanders in chief fell asleep during an important meeting:
“If at first the members of the council thought that Kutuzov was pretending to sleep, the sounds his nose emitted [..] proved that the commander in chief at that moment was absorbed by a far more serious matter than a desire to show his contempt for the dispositions or anything else- he was engaged in satisfying the irresistible human need for sleep.”
§ Date: 30.09.2017, pages read so far: 512 (approx. 50%)
I managed to read half of the book! The chapters I read since my last entry were entirely about the life of Russian high-class families, including love stories, engagements, betrayals and all the rest. There were some very dramatic parts, with unexpected plot twists, which got me hooked up to reading the book … but at some point it seemed a bit too dramatic for my taste.
Even though I do not particularly like the philosophical aspects of the book, I found an interesting metaphor that I want to share with you. The context is that Pierre, one of the main characters, was thinking about the meaning of life, asking rhetorical questions about his existence. And this feeling is wonderfully described by Tolstoy as follows:
“It was as if the thread of the chief screw which held his life together were stripped, so that the screw could not get in or out, but went on turning uselessly in the same place.”
I want to end this entry with another random piece of information. Did you know that Borzoi is a Russian wolfhound dog used for hunting activities? Tolstoy extensively described a hunting scene in one of the book sections, and I was very curious to find out more about these dogs. Borzois symbolized the Russian aristocracy and their name is the masculine form of the Russian adjective “fast“. It’s easy to understand why they were used for wolf hunting …
Click here for the second part of the reading journey
‘Till next time, happy reading!