FIVE STARS easily, and I think everybody could read this and enjoy it if they're willing to put a little effort into a bit of Russian history. After tFIVE STARS easily, and I think everybody could read this and enjoy it if they're willing to put a little effort into a bit of Russian history. After that, sit back and watch the characters come alive, so much that I can't think of anyone who does characters as well as Tolstoy.
The characters are never static, but, like in real life, making little changes and growing, changing, all the time. But (unlike many characters in other books) they're never out-of-character; you're not offended that you've had the wool pulled over your eyes, or that the rug was jerked out from under you. Indeed, you start looking at other books differently, realizing how many authors' characters pale in comparison to Tolstoy's because they're static, almost stuck in a moment in a God-like sense, and (even for the good characters) are just that much less believable after reading Tolstoy. Tolstoy's characters jump off the page and seem real because they're constantly moving, changing, mellowing, resolving, &c. They interact in ways other than speeches (thank God!). They pop.
The story is about a romance, I suppose, but it's about so much more than that. (God, civic duty, castes, lifestyle choices, judgment, forgiveness, morality, coming-of-age, true happiness, &c.). And social commentary aplenty, (view spoiler)[ I think it's clear by the end that Tolstoy thinks a simple, domestic lifestyle is preferable to an industrialized urban world, which was a hot topic in Tolstoy's day (and, yeah we all know, Russia was just decades out from revolution). (hide spoiler)] The overarching ideas in AK about how to live one's life are timeless to the human condition; the characters are real; the 'drama', if you will, seems true-to-life.
Don Juan is a somewhat-scathing, exceedingly witty, epic social commentary that was told by a revolutionary mind with great skill and reverence for thDon Juan is a somewhat-scathing, exceedingly witty, epic social commentary that was told by a revolutionary mind with great skill and reverence for the crafting of words. In Lord Byron's cantos of this poem, I see "social networking" centuries before its time with Byron's 'asides' about his contemporaries. And his protagonist, young unfortunate Don Jewan, is tossed about haphazardly from country to country by the strangest events, narrating a dissection of every society he comes upon... which, unfortunately, we read only a fraction of what Lord Byron was planning for the character before the poet's untimely death, leaving the poem unfinished, and yet still one of the best writings ever put to paper. Timeless.
Byron's worldview was notably pessimistic, but it was damned eye-opening. For example, on *shrugh* "nationalism" I suppose, in Canto IV, Stanza 101:
Hell yeah, the boy spoke some truths that I daresay still flips the world on its side (can you imagine China or America being merely a legend one day, as scoffed about then as Atlantis is today?). And his 'rivals' or critics wanted to 'save' him. But Byron argued (paraphrasing) that his was the MOST MORAL poem of the day. Moral, yes; and why? Because it was truthful.
I have it listed in my Top 5, which should include the Bible, Inferno/Purgatorio, Dosty's Brothers K, and probably a Kafka; and Good God I hate to mention Paradise Lost... but! as another reviewer here put it, while Milton's work attempted to tell God's side to humanity, Lord Byron told humanity's side to God. (Successfully, though.) And we're the lucky ones who glimpsed at least some of Byron's tellings before he died. Yes, I find it very moral, AND it keeps me rolling on the floor, laughing.
And being a Catholic Anglican Christian type (or so I like to think), it is my sincere hope that we'll hear the remainder of Don Juan in Heaven one day, where I'm sure Lord Byron entertains the angels. (*not that way!*)...more