Well, I did it! I never thought it would happen, but I finally finished War and Peace! I’ve been trying on and off for years to read this. But I had never been able to break the 200-page barrier. I even started it last summer but put it off when I found out the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky was to be released last fall. And, boy, am I glad I waited! What seemed like torture in earlier translations now was perfectly understandable in the new translation. Perhaps I was just ready to final sink my teeth into it. And sink I did…for 6 months! It took me from December 2007 through this past week to finally finish the novel. Now, I read other things in between that took up my reading time, though surprisingly nothing for pleasure. But no matter how long it took, I am so glad I finally stuck with it.
I certainly could not do the plot justice by going trying to summarize it, so I won’t. However, let me point out some of the things I found enjoyable while reading this amazing book.
I was surprised that I got so involved in the lives of the characters. I originally found the numerous patronymics used for Russian names to be confusing (a common complaint Westerners often have regarding Russian literature). Thankfully, there was a cast of characters listing at the start of the book or else I would never been able to keep them straight for the first 400 pages or so. But no matter how many times I had to flip back and forth, I found myself caught up in the stories of Natasha, Prince Andrei, Pierre, Nikolai, Sonya and many others.
Much to my surprise, I was never bored, not even during the lengthy battle sequences. I found the political backdrop of the story to be educational (in the best way) and I felt Tolstoy captured a long-gone era of Russian aristocracy that I personally find fascinating.
I knew going in that the story just stops, and it certainly does. And while I wish the last 35 pages weren’t such an extensive essay on war, I found Tolstoy’s views particularly relevant given the current global situation. So, perhaps timing was everything for me.
Is War and Peace the greatest novel ever written? That is certainly up for debate. But it certainly deserves its classic status and I look forward to rereading it in the future to glean new insights into this most fascinating work.
Highly recommended for those who have the time and the patience.