War and Peace: Book 3

I almost lost it in Book 3 of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace – the momentum I had in reading it.  I still like it well enough – it’s just that I keep seeing so many other books I want to read.  And War and Peace is just so long.  I’m managing, though.  I am going to have to scramble if I want to get it read by the end of the year.

“War” takes presedence in Book 3.  We get a first-hand view of The Battle of Borodino while all the various love interests continue to take their twists and turns.  In portraying war, Tolstoy makes several analogies to the game of chess.  He’s probably not the first person, nor the last, to make this analogy; however, he does it so well:

A good chess player who has lost a game is genuinely convinced that his failure resulted from a false move on his part, and tries to see the mistake he made at the beginning of the game, forgetting that at each stage of play there were similar blunders, so that no single move was perfect.  The mistake on which he concentrates attention attracts his notice simply because his opponent took advantage of it.  How much more complex is the game of war, which must be played within certain limits of time and where it is a question not of one will manipulating inanimate objects but of something resulting from the innumerable collisions of diverse wills!

Later on, Prince Andrei Bolkonsky contrasts chess and war:

…in chess you may think over each move as long as you please, taking your time, and with this further difference that a knight is always stronger than a pawn and two pawns are always stronger than one, while in war a battalion is sometimes stronger than a division and sometimes weaker than a company.  The relative strength of opposing armies can never be predicted.

Throughout the novel, many conversations take place about Napoleon Bonaparte as a man and as a leader.  On occasion, in some relatively short narratives, Napoleon actually becomes a character, himself, instead of someone who is simply discussed.  He seems to appear like a ghost out of the woods and start talking.   I find it interesting when authors make historical figures into fictional characters.  Tolstoy’s ability to make Napoleon apparate into a character in the story gives Bonaparte an awe-inspired creepiness.

Let’s see if I can tackle the rest of this novel before December 31?

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3 responses to “War and Peace: Book 3

  1. Hi Dale,
    If I had realized War and Peace “had chess in it” I would have read it long ago! The first quotation you share is so true among chess players. At tournaments, often upon completion of the game, the two players “analyze” it together it what is know as a post-mortem. I’ve had several of them where a egotistic opponent was just looking for the spot inthe game where he could say, “Oh, I should’ve just done this!” Then, when that supposition was refuted, he would just want to go backs few more moves and say,”Aha! If I had just played this move here…” and on and on it would go.:-)
    -Jay

    • The chess comments were some of the more interesting things that showed up in Book 3, but given the length of the book, the chess comments are relatively few. But Tolstoy skillfully captures the way some involved in war look at it as a “game” and others look at it as a human atrocity.

  2. Pingback: War and Peace: DONE! | Mirror w/ Clouds

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