I thought I’d start this year off with an old favorite, Tolstoy’s War and Peace. This is a different translation from my go-to (the Aylmer and Louise Maude edition). War and Peace is ultimately a story about the basic elements of the human experience. It focuses on love, duty, and the lifelong search for meaning. All with the backdrop of imperial Russia and the judgmental high society that goes with it.
The most prominent characters (although there are over 500 character in the book) are Pierre and Andrei, two friends trying to find happiness. Andrei goes off to war against Napoleon to escape his suffocating domestic life, only to find that he didn’t appreciate what he had. Pierre stays at home and is constantly feeling like he has no purpose in life and will never find peace or love. As is common with Russian literature, the novel explores many philosophical themes in addition to the story line. Interestingly it also serves as part history, cataloging the Napoleonic Wars against Austria and Russia.
When Tolstoy first published the novel people were unsure where to place it. Was it fiction, was it history, was it philosophy? The truth is it’s all of them, and the combination of the three genres is how the novel so effectively touches on the innate experiences that we all have. The fear of being far away from home, the thrill of finding purpose, the terrifying ecstasy of falling in love, it’s all there. The novel runs almost 1,500 pages in this edition so it’s not for the faint of heart. But for those of you willing to take on the challenge I highly recommend it.
Photo is mine.