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War and Peace

War and Peace - Henry Gifford, Aylmer Maude, Louise Maude, Leo Tolstoy War and bloody Peace eh? Started June 12, 2013, finished August 26, 2013! How am I supposed to review this?! I'll apply my usual rambling slapdash technique I think.

War and Peace looks like a formidable challenge for the average reader, in term of length and legendary status, this is not "just another book" you can just read and forget. Personally I read fiction mainly for entertainment purposes ( the best past time I know), some books I read purely out of curiosity, Some books like Moby Dick I even read for a bragging right (that did not turn out well!). Any way, as far as War and Peace is concerned it's a combo of all three, I am glad to report (not brag) that the result turned out to be more than satisfactory as far as I am concerned. The most daunting part of reading this book is when you tentatively start on the first page and constantly feel aware of the remaining thousand or so pages, I think the trick is just to ignore the remaining page weighing down your right hand and just follow the characters along and see what they get up to. After all you don't need to read the entire book if you don't find the first few chapters to your liking. For myself I kind of cheated and went the audiobook route which add up to more than 60 hours in total (read with consummate skill and probably gallons of coffee by Alexander Scourby). I pity the poor chap who read it but then I remembered he probably took well over a month to finish the reading it.

In term of entertainment and readability War and Peace easily met these basic requirements for me. It starts off lightly enough with a "soiree", there are several soirees in this book, they seem like high society dinner parties which I avoid like the plague at every opportunity. The reader is gently introduced to the current situation of the day and some central characters also make their first entrances. The narrative then moves from house to house and we soon meet all the central characters which there are surprisingly few in number. Yes, it's a whale of a book with a large cast of characters but there are only a few protagonists for you to concern yourself with. This book is more about the characters than about two countries at war. Looking at the title I believe it is more about peace than about war, if anything it seems like an anti-war book to me, the message is not communicated through humor and satire like Heller's [b:Catch-22|168668|Catch-22|Joseph Heller|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1359882576s/168668.jpg|814330] but through Tolstoy's profound psychological insight and humanity. This makes it more serious and dryer than Heller's book and I did doze through the odd passages but over all I found it much more rewarding.

The main source of pleasure for me are the beautifully developed main characters they really came alive once I settled into the groove of the book. My favorite character is certainly Pierre Bezukhov, a chubby, sensitive, thoughtful and compassionate gentleman, not your archetypal heroic figure but certainly not an anti-hero. The best part of reading the book for me was to share Pierre's thought processes. He does tend to overthink things and is prone to changing his mind about what the meaning of life really is (a bit like me but with high IQ); following his internal is akin to some kind of telepathy. The other central characters are also very nicely fleshed out and believable, particularly the main female character Natasha Rostova who practically grows up before the reader's eyes. A few real life individuals such as Mikhail Kutuzov and Napoleon Bonaparte are presented to us as part of the novel's cast of characters, whether their fictional representation is true to the real people I can not say but to live inside their heads is a fascinating experience.

The prose style (from the English translated version of it) is just stupendous, Tolstoy seems to casually toss in phrases like "sorrowful pleasure" and put it in just the right context. People who like to pick quotations from a book will have a field day with this one. Nary a page goes by without finding something quotable. Here is a couple I picked almost at random:
“Here I am alive, and it's not my fault, so I have to try and get by as best I can without hurting anybody until death takes over.”

“Because of the self-confidence with which he had spoken, no one could tell whether what he said was very clever or very stupid.”
There are dull chapters and passages in several places of the book, the practical side of warfare is of little interest to me, but those are far outweighed by wondrous materials that feed the brain and the heart. At least I picked up some knowledge about "scorched earth principle" and Kutuzov's military genius. Special mention should be made about the epilogues, the two epilogues total moire than 100 pages, the first one wraps up the story of the protagonists and their settled down lives after the war. The second epilogue is something like a treatise on the nature of power, the real causes and meanings of war and so forth. This part of the book is so dry you may want to read it while in a bath. Still, if you have the capacity to patiently absorb what Tolstoy has to say about these weighty matters you will probably be the wiser for it.

Basically, the best way to read this book in whatever format is to immerse yourself in the story, the length becomes fairly insignificant once you are along for the ride, of course, you need to have a lot of patience and don't expect to race to the end of the book. Come to think of it reading it just for the bragging right is probably a waste of time. I personally like this book more than Tolstoy's equally legendary [b:Anna Karenina|15823480|Anna Karenina|Leo Tolstoy|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1352422904s/15823480.jpg|2507928] which I also like, but I find War and Peace more emotionally resonant. Certainly I am glad I read it, and some day (a few years from now) I would be quite happy to read it again.