It has always been a goal of mine to read Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel War and Peace at some point in my life. Prior to this past summer, I didn’t know much about this book besides that a) it’s HUGE, b) it’s written by a Russian author, and c) it takes place in the early nineteenth century. Little did I know that I would spontaneously embark on a long endeavor to read War and Peace this past summer (on top of all of my actual required reading…). I was motivated to do so when I learned about the War and Peace Newbie Read-A-Long hosted by Laura @ Reading in Bed. It’s so much easier to read such a tome when you know that plenty of bookworms are right beside you.
To be honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy this book. I knew that it would be fascinating at times and that the writing would be brilliant; however, I didn’t think I would find it particularly entertaining or engaging.
I stand corrected, friends.
I never thought I’d be saying this, but War and Peace is a page-turner. Coupled with a large cast of characters, the wide web of interconnected plot lines makes for a suspenseful and gripping read. The length was intimidating at first– my edition is 1156 pages long!– but the way it’s divided into sections helps keep you motivated as you read. I found myself thinking about the characters and what would happen next even when I wasn’t reading– the sure sign of a great book!
My favorite character to follow is Pierre because he has such interesting thoughts about what it means to live a happy, fulfilling life. From his sudden wealth and travels to his initiation into the Freemasons and eventual imprisonment, Pierre experiences enough in this novel to make one’s head spin. In many ways he is the heart and soul of the story.
Tolstoy’s fascinating discussions about history and how it should be told were pleasant surprises. He argues that historians are foolish for focusing primarily on figures who are considered “great heroes” because often they actually had little to do with causing and shaping events. I hadn’t expected these digressions in a work of fiction, though their incorporation makes sense due to the novel’s reliance on historical events.
“If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war.”
Reading War and Peace has made me think about history from a different perspective. What role does history play in literature? What role does literature play in history? Are writers historians? If so, are they historians inherently or must they actively choose to be? I love books that make me ask these kinds of questions!
Overall, I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed War and Peace. If you’re at all intimidated by its length or afraid that it is too dull to sit through, I urge you to set those thoughts aside and give it a try! My only regret is not reading Tolstoy’s writing sooner.
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!
What are your thoughts on War and Peace? Have any recommendations for other pieces of Russian literature that I should read? Let me know in the comments section below!