War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Length: 1358 pgs.
My Rating: 4 Stars
I find it hard to write a review of these longer epic works of classic literature. They involve so much and it’s hard to narrow it down to talk about it. The first time I read War and Peace I was, let’s just say, not that impressed. I found it to be simply okay. But I also knew that at some point I needed to read it again. And so I did. This second time around I loved it so much more! This book is truly phenomenal. I do feel it has its own flaws; but in my opinion those flaws don’t detract from the book overall.
Tolstoy includes a lot of details in the war sections but also in the other parts of the story, including a lengthy philosophical digression in the second part of the epilogue. As I have already mentioned in a previous post, as far as the war and battlefield portions go, while I think we may not necessarily need all the details he gives, I can see how this attention to detail really does contribute to the epic scope of this novel. Because this book truly is a masterpiece of epic proportions.
Regarding the philosophical detours, when you understand that Tolstoy wrote this novel with the intent to include reflections of his beliefs on a number of issues, then you can see why he included so much of the various sections with all the details of war and the parts that were treatises on different topics such as history, free will, and such. Understanding that, it makes sense that he would devote a portion of the epilogue to delve into his beliefs more and in turn, bring them to a close. But I didn’t feel like he brought them to a close. It felt like he just went on and on talking about the issues and left off in the middle of the conversation. So the last part of the epilogue left a bit to be desired unfortunately. In my opinion, I think that the whole second part of the epilogue (as well as some of the details in the various war sections) could have been left out. And that really is what ultimately led me to give this book 4 stars instead of 5 stars. If I had not been bent on finishing every single word, I would have been tempted to simply skip that last philosophical part of the epilogue. Had it left off at the end of part I of the epilogue, I really think I would have walked away from the book feeling like I would want to keep reading about the lives of the characters that we have gotten to know so well throughout the book. Instead, I found myself just plowing my way through that second and last part of the epilogue to get it finished. Sadly, by the last sentence of the book, I was glad it was done. So for me, I think the story would have had a better finish if it had ended after part one of the epilogue. But that’s just my humble opinion. 😉
I also think it’s these philosophical detours coupled with its immense length that makes it feel intimidating. I was certainly intimidated by the thought of reading it for the first time! But truly, despite the length and philosophy parts, this book is so incredibly readable and highly entertaining. Tolstoy’s writing truly is magnificent in this work.
And speaking of Tolstoy’s amazing writing, let’s take just a brief minute to look at how he wrote his characters. Tolstoy managed to write very complex, layered characters. So much so that I really can not pick a favorite character. He managed to capture human nature so well. The characters portray their own struggles with life, how to live life best, and what is important in life. Because of the length of this novel, we get to watch the characters grow and develop and change over many years. We see their good sides and their not so good sides. Even the ones that overall seem like not so good characters, Tolstoy succeeds in leading the reader to feel pity and sadness for them at some point. For example, Anatole. If I had to pick just one or two characters I consistently did not like, it would be him and his sister Helene. However, towards the end of the book, Tolstoy brings us to a scene on the battlefield with Anatole and Andrey when they are both injured and you can’t help but feel sorry for Anatole. In fact, this particular scene in the book is one of the most moving scenes in Andrey’s life in my opinion. Andrey himself is moved to not just pity for Anatole but also forgiveness and love. When you know what has happened between these two characters, then you understand how monumental this is for Andrey. It is a powerful scene!
Despite the the flaws in this novel that I mentioned, multiple times throughout the book I found myself remarking that Tolstoy’s writing in this novel was genius. It truly is a phenomenal work. Even though it is a long book, it really is extremely readable. It’s immersive, absorbing, and gripping.
If you want to give it a try, I wrote a post on Tips for Reading Classic Russian Literature. Be sure to check it out. Hopefully it will be helpful!
Links to All of My Reflection Posts on War and Peace