This is a good book, a great read - but also a very heavy and dense read. It's one of those book where you proudly can pat yourself on the back when y...moreThis is a good book, a great read - but also a very heavy and dense read. It's one of those book where you proudly can pat yourself on the back when you've finished, look yourself in the eyes and say 'You did it!' - but at the same time I know that I didn't grasp all the action, all the sub-plots and all the various thoughts Tolstoy expressed throughout it so I'll have to read it again at some point. And I will enjoy doing that.
The book follows two families - the Bolkonskys and the Rostovs - and then one man, Pierre Bezukhov. We follow these people in war and peace (of course), in their daily life, at parties and working their way through the ups and downs in life. People live and die, fall in love, are deceived, fight and are captured etc etc etc in the pages of this book. It's like a piece of real life - just in a dramatic Russian way. Some of the things that happened to the characters really surprised me but it still felt like real life, like the fortunes of war or the things that happen to everybody.
Besides the story of these people, Tolstoy dives into discussions about war, about freedom v. necessity, about the role of historians, about doctors (I loved this quote about doctors: "Though the doctors treated him, let his blood, and gave him medications to drink, he nevertheless recovered."(1102)) and many other things. These discussions are placed throughout the text - but are even more heavily present in the Epilogue which only briefly mentions the character we've followed for more than 1000 pages by then. The Epilogue is a bit heavy to read but very interesting to get Tolstoy's though about the above mentioned topics presented more elaborately. If I'd read this book while still studying at the University, I would have written a paper about 'The Philosophy of Leo Tolstoy as presented in War and Peace'. Now we'll see if I get around to writing an article or something about it.
Briefly stated, Tolstoy believes we are free but that at the same time our freedom is limited by necessity. If I raise my arm, I can freely do so - but if I try to lower it in a place where another human being stand, I'm limited. In a war, if an entire regiment attacks, every single soldier do so by necessity because of the group (group pressure) they are in - and if one flees, everyone starts fleeing. He thinks it wrong to give Napoleon and Alexander I for the war - they are both products of their time and could not do anything else. When you look at history, the longer back an event is, the more necessary does it look - whereas things that happened just yesterday seem free. "To imagine a man who is completely free, not subject to the law of necessity, we must imagine him alone, outside space, outside time, and outside any dependence on causes."(1210)
This is an exceptional book. But it demands a lot of it's reader. First of all, it's huge, it's massive in scale. Second of all, some of it are in French - luckily it's translated in the footnotes (at least in this edition) but you have to look up and down on the page to get the translations. Thirdly, it contains a lot of endnotes that explain who historical persons are and other things being mentioned in the text so you'll have to constantly look in the back as well. Fourthly, it's very hard to keep all the characters straight - who's related to who etc. And did I mention it's huge??? I'm a fast reader - but still this took me more than 3 weeks to read! It was so worth it and I'm proud to have done it - and enjoyed it! - but 3 weeks is a lot of time for me to commit to one book. This is by far the hardest fiction I've ever read - but it's also one of the best, if not the best. It's hard to compare other books to this one - even when I compare it to Anna Karenina, the only other book by Tolstoy I've read, it's in a league of it's own!(less)
In a Russia slowly changing, we meet 4 very different people. Ljóvin (Levin in the English version) who's in love with Kitty and Anna who is maried to...moreIn a Russia slowly changing, we meet 4 very different people. Ljóvin (Levin in the English version) who's in love with Kitty and Anna who is maried to Karenin. But Kitty is in love with Vronskij so she rejects Ljovin's proposal of marriage. Then Vronskij meets Anna and they fall in love and this love starts all what's happening in the book. Anna is still married and divorce is not something you easily get. So she's unfaithful to her husbond and end up leaving him for her lover, without getting a divorce, and leaving her young son behind - a series of actions that slowly drives her toward paranoia. That this unfaithful wife is judged so hard by her society and her former friends are especially illuminating since the novel begins with Anna making sure that her brother Stiva's wife Dolly stays with him even though he has been unfaithful with the children's nanny... - and even though Stiva continues to be unfaithful, Dolly stays. But Anna chooses love and is harshly judged because of that.
To judge from this book, Tolstoy is a master of describing the feelings - often contradictory - we human feel and how we do things sometimes that we really don't want to, but that we do anyway to protect us from harm or to hurt someone who has hurt us. All his characters are so complex. They change and grow throughout the book but are also petty and spiteful and insanely jealous at times - in fact, I found Tolstoy a master in describing what we feel when we are jealous, a feeling both Anna and Ljóvin feels very strongly at several points in the book.
Some part of the book focuses on Ljóvin's attempt to change the way his farm is run and to try and get the workers to use the new tools and other parts focuses on political discussions and in these themes, you really see the difference between the men and the women. The men discuss these topics - the women don't. So it's a very gender focused society we are in - and that's of course why Anna is judged the way she is and not accepted into civilized society anymore. But these themes also show Anna as a special woman - at one part of the book she takes an interest in both the running of a farm and the building of a hospital and shows herself so capable that she is a serious player in the discussion of the best way to do both. So in some ways she's a very modern woman, but stuck in an old world.
In some ways, Anna and Ljóvin are presented as opposites. Anna goes after the unconventional love, gives up everything in order to achieve that love and is incredible happy - for a short time while Ljóvin finds love in the conventional way by marrying her dream girl but still he struggles with finding a meaning in his life and even though he loves his wife, he is often unhappy. Both characters struggle and both characters in the end reach a decision that sort of bring happiness to each of them, but in radical different ways.
For me, this is one of the books that really deserve to be a classic - and a book, that you can return to time and again and each time find something new. There are so many layers in the book and it is so well written and because of the characters complexity, you almost feel like reading it again as soon as you finish it... Amazing book!(less)
I had a bit of a difficult time becoming fully absorbed in this book - probably because I expected something different. I've heard of Wuthering Height...moreI had a bit of a difficult time becoming fully absorbed in this book - probably because I expected something different. I've heard of Wuthering Heights of course but I had Heathcliff pictured as the great romantic hero where he in fact is more the great Romantic hero, a character that made me thing of Edmund Burke's idea of the sublime and Caspar David Friedrich's paintings. His raw temper, emotions and energy enters everything and everyone in this book and all events and people are shaped by his constant love and possessive feelings toward Cathy Earnshaw.
As a young boy, Heathcliff is brought home by Mr Earnshaw as a brother to his own children, Hindley and Catherine. Catherine and Heatchliff gets along and run and play together like small wild animals, while Hindley dislikes him and when Mr Earnshaw dies, Hindley disowns Heathcliff and he has to work in the stables and the fields. On one of their escapades, Cathy is bitten by a dog belonging to their neighbours, the Lintons. Here she meets Edgar, the man whom she will eventually marry. When Heathcliff finds out, he disappears for two years but he eventually comes back and becomes the master of Wuthering Heights. His return unravels Cathy and with her, the entire Linton family as Edgar's sister Isabella thinks herself in love with Heathcliff and flees with him. Heatchliff's passion poisons everything around him - even the next generation ... But even though Heathcliff plots and plots, maybe love will survive some day in spite of Heathcliff's attempts at forcing his will.
The story is cleverly told by Cathy's old nanny, Ellen Dean to Mr Lockwood, Heathcliff's new tenant, after he has visited Wuthering Heights and is shocked by the relationships between the people, he meets there.
It's an extremely powerful story with some powerful characters that makes all the other characters dance at their slightest wish. Cathy and Heatchliff are two characters that will stay with every reader for a very long time.
I think this book is one that will benefit from being re-read. I think part of the reason I gave it three stars was that my expectations got too much in the way of too much of the book. But now, I know what to expect and I think it will definitely grow on me.
Edit: Well, it's been almost two months since I finished this book and afterwards I've watched the movie starring Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes and liked it and I've found myself going back to these people again and again, I just keep thinking about them. And because of this continuing surfacing of these characters in my mind, I've decided for once to change my rating from 3 to 4 stars. (less)
Read these 3 books very quickly 15 years ago to help a classmate to write a project on this trilogy and didn't really appreciate it but also felt that...moreRead these 3 books very quickly 15 years ago to help a classmate to write a project on this trilogy and didn't really appreciate it but also felt that I didn't have enough time to get into it and I think I'll be able to appreciate it now than then.(less)