I’ve completed Book 1 of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace which takes me to page 344, not quite one fourth of the way through the book.
I’m experiencing what I would call a minor phenomenon that I’ve experienced before in a few other books – books that have numerous characters and story lines woven together. When I attempt to make a concerted effort to keep all the characters and stories straight, I get frustrated; however, when I kick back and just soak it all in, the characters and the stories eventually fall into place. That’s what’s been happening from my perspective in the first book with the Rostovs, Kuragins and Bolkonskys along with their friends and enemies. A number of years ago, a co-worker of mine bought J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy at a bookstore. The clerk at the bookstore told her that The Lord of the Rings was War and Peace with elves. I could reverse that and say War and Peace is The Lord of the Rings without elves (or hobbits or wizards).
Unlike The Lord of the Rings, however, a character or characters have not jumped out at me as a favorite. Anatole Kuragin, Prince Vasili’s “wild child” probably comes the closest. No favorite, though, does not correspond to no enjoyment. From the conversations in the drawing rooms to the battlefield, the characters manage to quite brilliantly fascinate, intrigue and keep me engaged in the story.
The military storyline provides the most thought-provoking moments and the thoughts of the soldiers, from privates to commanding officers, depict a great paradox not only applicable to war but to life itself:
From general to private, every man was conscious of his own insignificance, aware that he was but a grain of sand in that ocean of humanity, and yet at the same time had a sense of power as a part of that vast whole.
The structure of the novel made me realize that television series were not the first to utilize what is known as a cliffhanger. If the books of War and Peace were published separately, Book 1 would have left it’s original readers wondering about the marriage of Pierre Bezuhov to Prince Vasili’s daughter, Helene, and the rejection of Anatole by Prince Bolkonsky’s daughter, Maria. Book 1 involves the bitter defeat of the Russian army by Napoleon’s forces, ending with one of the major characters suffering a life threatening wound as he is captured by the French army. This character movingly faces his fate with these words:
Nothing, nothing is certain, except the unimportance of every thing within my comprehension and the grandeur of something incomprehensible but all-important.
Does he live or die? I don’t know yet. I’m looking forward to reading more to find out.