02 December, 2016

REVIEW: WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy

Title: War and Peace
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Series: -
Genres: Historical fiction, Classics
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Source: Audiobook
Pages:1392


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BLURB:
Tolstoy's epic masterpiece intertwines the lives of private and public individuals during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion of Russia. The fortunes of the Rostovs and the Bolkonskys, of Pierre, Natasha, and Andrei, are intimately connected with the national history that is played out in parallel with their lives. Balls and soirees alternate with councils of war and the machinations of statesmen and generals, scenes of violent battles with everyday human passions in a work whose extraordinary imaginative power has never been surpassed.

The prodigious cast of characters, seem to act and move as if connected by threads of destiny as the novel relentlessly questions ideas of free will, fate, and providence. Yet Tolstoy's portrayal of marital relations and scenes of domesticity is as truthful and poignant as the grand themes that underlie them.

 

I have known about this book from my early school days, because we were introduced to is as kids by our literature teachers. However, it took me a number of years to finally be in a place where I could sit down and read (well listen) to it knowing I will understand it. Still I think I didn't understand it, and would see thing differently if I re-read it in a decade or something. I have seen multiple adaptations of this book as movies or television series but I still always wanted to read the book itself, so my expectations for this one was sky high!

 
THE WORLD: The world in this book is far from fictional. The plot takes place in Russia between the years of 1805 to 1812, or in other world during the French invasion of Russia and the Napoleon era. You do not need to do much to imagine how things looked, smelled or sounded like in this book because the  descriptions of every single thing, even the littlest statue or fork are so detailed you literally see the rooms, the paintings, the clothes, the people, the ballrooms and the battle fields right before you! I have to admit in the beginning it was awesome, just to think that Mr. Tolstoy had the capability to capture such details was astonishing, however around the middle of this book I started skipping the descriptions I confess, because it was just too much. I would be like two pages of dialogue and ten pages of descriptions. I mean it's good, it's written in a beautiful way but personally to me it felt heavy and I skipped every other sentence or even paragraphs sometimes. 

CHARACTERS: The plot of this book is actually rather simple. War is about to break, French are about to take Russia, home of our characters, so they live in a literal battle field and an inner battlefield.

To me the main focus of this book was the war and how it affect the lives of our characters.This book contains like a thousand characters or something, and knowing the Russian name style I lost count of them, but still the main six characters or so do not change and remain the focus ones throughout the novel. So basically in the novel we focus on four families: Bolkonsky Family, Rostov Family, Bezuhov Family, Kuragin Family. They each have their own game to play in the novel but the war touches them what it seems in a different yet the same way. The men go to was, when the women stay behind and when the men come back they all try to figure their life back again. However, they are changed forever.

My favorite character in the book was Prince Nikolay Andreivitch Bolkonsky or just Andrei (who is also my fictional boyfriend number four!):

He actually is much older in the novel, but this actor playing him is so handsome my face hurts! So anyway, Andrei is one of those characters that from the very first moments you meet them, you know they will have everything a really good character needs to because - character development! When we meet him he is arrogant and a little selfish, and really into glory. Since he is born into a noble family he is surrounded by the Russian court and is sick and tired of it, and sick and tired of everyone calling him a hero, a great soldier and so on. He has an obsession with war and thinks that nothing is more noble that dying in a battle. He is actually married at the beginning and its really annoying to read how cold and distant he was with his wife. She loved him and he loved glory. But as the novel progresses and a tragedy strikes our handsome Andrei he changes, he grows, he understand the cost of vanity, he understand the true meaning of love, hate, revenge and forgiveness. His plot line is really difficult to explain without going into spoilers but what I loved in this character was his sadness. He is just surrounded by deep emotional sadness and inner depth.
Another character I liked was Nikolay Rostov. He also grew a lot in this book, from a spoiled little boy to a wonderful man. I also liked Marya Bolkonskaya, Andrei's sister, who in this novel is shown as a weak, very religious young woman, who is afraid to speak her mind and is made fun of by almost everyone, but eventually becomes a strong independent woman. I will actually discuss the portrayal of women in this book a little later. 
The two other more important characters are Natasha Rostova, who if I had to pick one female character, I would call the leading lady in this novel. When we meet her she is still very young, 12 I think, but grows up into a beautiful young woman. I actually liked that she was naive and silly and wonderful dancer, I think it was sort of a contrast between the awful images of the war. However, I also had some issues regarding her development. But I enjoyed her character. The main protagonist of this novel is named Pierre Bezuhov, who is the illegitimate son of the one of the most richest people in Russia. He was a good character, but honestly, I didn't have patience with him, because everybody understood people were using him, except him. I couldn't even deal at some point. And also what I didn't like was that he got this unthinkable riches and it took him almost half a book to actually do something good with all that money. 
LOVE: There are basically few love lines in this book, but the main one happens between Andrei and Natasha and we also kind of understand that Pierre also has feelings for her but he doesn't really act on them. Of course then life happens and twists! But what I liked about the Andrei and Natasha romance was that they truly  were opposite to each other. I think Andrei was bewitched by the goodness and kindness of  Natasha, and she just wanted to make his sadness disappear. 

PLUS: The entire book was excellent. I cannot think of just one plus that I liked. The characters were interesting, their plot lines were good and well developed. The book didn't focus just on one think and combined this action vibe throughout it. I also enjoyed the inner thoughts and the political aspect  this book had because there were a lot of political and battle talks and strategies going on so it was quite interesting to actually understand how people came up with them and executed them. 

MINUS: The translation. It was horrible. Some parts didn't even made sense, and some words are not even usable anymore. I also hated the awful attempt to pronounce Russian words and names. I mean if your job is to record audiobooks for a living, either make the effort to learn the pronunciation of words and manes correctly or DO NOT do it what so ever. I understand about 80% of Russian and speak very little of it, but even I know that the woman who was reading this did not understand or even tried to pronounce them in the correct way. I think I'll try to actually re-read this book in Lithuanian later on, I just have a feeling the translation is way better.

The portrayal of women (contains spoilers).
I just had the vibe and I don't know if Tolstoy did it on purpose but it felt like every single female character in this book was either weak or corrupted. Natasha who is the sunshine of everyone, eventually gets seduced by Kuragin (really just annoying character), and is basically ruined. She is just so in love with the idea of being In Love that she jumps to any man who shows her more attention. I mean she only had to wait a year to marry Andrei (because his lunatic father demanded it) but nope, she went off with douche bag Kuragin. Even Marya, who eventually becomes a strong woman, in the beginning is nothing more but almost  religious lunatic herself. Ellen Kuragin, who married Pierre sleeps around with everyone. I don't think I'm taking it too far with the 'girl power' here but it just felt like these women where destroying themselves.

OVERALL: Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. It took me a total of three months to complete the audiobook, because I took breaks and skipped a bit so had to go back. I mean it's a really long book and it demands a lot from you, but you will feel an accomplishment when you'll finish it! Also my advise would be to pick a good translation, ask around in your library or read up on it, because trust me, with this novel translations is crucial! 


 


What did you think of WAR AND PEACE?