Annalisa's Reviews > War and Peace

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
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Jul 17, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: classics, guy-lit, historical-fiction, literary
Read from July 17, 2012 to September 04, 2013

I'm about to offend my classic literature friends: I found War and Peace boring and a chore to read.

I have always been curious what makes War and Peace so grand and finally committed to the lengthy read. It started off promising. The introduction of Russian aristocrats and all that would be altered by Napoleon's invasion interested me and I couldn't wait to find out how the course of history would alter these characters' lives in this epic tale. Twice I started this novel, the first time through Nicholas' first experience with war, and both times I found that much of the novel intriguing enough.

But then the "novel" gets hijacked by Tolstoy's war philosophies. It becomes more of an essay about war with tidbits of fiction that follow these long-winded analyses of battles and events we have yet to read through the characters' experiences. Once I did read about Pierre charging through the chaos of the battle of Borodino, I had already read through pages and pages of tedious analysis why the French won because they moved to the left instead of right, or maybe that was vice versa, so that all the excitement was stripped for me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not opposed to philosophizing and I found a great deal of what Tolstoy had to say interesting, but stuffed before pages of fiction on the subject and to the extent that he goes on got old and felt like the wrong place for them. I did a little research and found that Tolstoy didn't consider this a novel and I'd have to agree in part with him. I generally like to go into a novel blind, but I think if I had known this wasn't complete novel (to understand what my friend meant when she said she read the Peace and not the War in War and Peace), I might have been more patient with Tolstoy's sidetracks. Probably not. It probably would have only resulted in an unfinished or at the very least skimmed "novel."

Near the end I started checking reviews and reading several that said they weren't consumed by the story/characters until near the end, so I persisted (that and why make it through 75% of War and Peace and not persevere?). Unfortunately, this was not my experience. As the novel concluded I found myself progressively more uninterested. I considered forgoing the two (two!) epilogues because I had no attachment to it, but I finished. More than anything so I can say that yes, I have read War and Peace, without that nagging disclaimer: except for the epilogues.

Through part of the first epilogue I got a bit of the conclusion to the characters' lives I'd been expecting of the novel, but it was too little too late without a grand wrap up. The second epilogue is pure essay, what should be the wrap up with this thought-provoking discussion on free will in history, but I found myself exasperated with Tolstoy for splitting hairs in semantics and disagreeing with his arguments. If the essay had made me ponder the meaning of war more, I might have felt some redemption and satisfaction in the end, but I didn't.

My biggest disappointment is that, for me, this isn't a sweeping epic tale with memorable characters that will be forever forged into my memory. There are a staggering number of characters in this book, and while that is impressive, my reaction is, "but what's the point?" Why introduce characters with no intent on following up on them or carrying them through to the end. The only character I cared about was Pierre and I'd figured out where his life was headed awhile back so I wasn't anxious to complete his story. I feel like the novel part of the book is supposed to be mostly about the Rostovs, but they are so scattered that Pierre is the only one consistently followed with a satisfactory character arc. I read that he is based largely on Tolstoy and like the essays he often felt like a distraction from the Rostovs's lives for Tolstoy to explore the human character. (view spoiler)

One more note about characters: it always makes me leery to read historical fiction about real characters. I often avoid fictionalized stories of people's lives. Here, Napoleon not only plays a fictionalized role, but then he shifts into dissection of a historic figure at Tolstoy's interjected chapters. I'm no fan of Napoleon's but seeing the resentment and disdain Tolstoy had for him, I had to take the Napoleon sections with a grain of salt.

What I did enjoy about the "novel" was a glimpse into a Russia now lost to us. A Russia before Stalin, the KGB, and the Cold War forever altered it in the world psyche. As I read about the Alexander I and how much love I could tell Tolstoy had for his country, I wondered what he must think of the Russia that changed a few short years after his death. I wondered what impact later events would have on his analysis of these events.

I want to say that I disagree that War and Peace belongs among great literature in history, but I can't think what I would replace it with. There's something in here worthy of those lists (and I still greatly respect Tolstoy), but it didn't measure up to my expectations. So maybe it has it's place among the greats however little I enjoyed it.
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Reading Progress

07/17/2012
15.0% "Nothing like being stranded in an airport for 3 days to get further in War and Peace than my last attempt." 8 comments
07/15/2013
75.0% "Book 12 out of 15 and it only took me a year to get there."
08/24/2013
92.0% "Made it to the first epilogue." 5 comments
09/04/2013 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by Rachel (new)

Rachel I read and liked the peace, but skipped all the war. Needless to say, I didn't get the full impact...


Annalisa I'm working through it all. Still shy of half, but I'm working through it on my phone during carpool, dr appt, etc. It'll take me a few years to get through, but I'll eventually get there.


message 3: by Kathy (new)

Kathy After recovering from reading that don't be scared to give Anna Karenina a try! There are some tedious sections, but not nearly as bad as this sounds, and the good parts are so, so good. The characters are compelling and do carry through the book. It's definitely worth getting to the end in Anna Karenina. I've read it twice. Good to know War and Peace wouldn't live up to my expectations. I've thought about reading that one too.


Annalisa Thanks for the info, Kathy. I won't :). It's still on my list of classics I'd like to read.


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