Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Some reviews

If anyone's nearing the end of War and Peace, you may be interested in the following more cohesive perspectives on the book as a whole (as opposed to on its itty-bitty parts taken separately). (Some links below contain spoilers.)

Matt has in recent weeks posted some thoughts on wrapping up the reading of War and Peace and a fuller review.

Also, Maxine some time ago in the comments provided a link to Frank Wilson's review of War and Peace in the Philadelphia Inquirer (I believe it's no longer available online, but I was able to search on the elements and find a cached copy). Here's a bit:
The nearest to a hero in the war chronicle is Prince Kutuzov, the old, one-eyed Russian commander. ("Long years of military experience, confirmed by the wisdom of old age, had told him that one person cannot control hundreds of thousands of men fighting to the death, and he knew that the fate of battles... is decided by a mysterious force known as the 'spirit of the army.'... ")

Napoleon is portrayed as an amoral brigand whose luck has run out, Czar Alexander as well-meaning but largely clueless. The most controversial parts of the work are the essays on history, which many regard as its least successful component. But they often segue nicely into the war episodes.

The essays also remind us that the novelist able to perform the miracle of creation that is Natasha could also be a common scold. From start to finish, the book is told in Tolstoy's voice, the viewpoint that of a patriotic Russian (the Russian forces are always referred to as "ours").

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A laggard's notes

Who else is behind? Woooo! Shake off your shame, people! The real shame is making Isabella write this blog all by herself, and I just can't do it anymore.

This is my third or fourth time through W&P, and I tells ya, it's like reading a different story. I'm not sure what it is, whether I'm just older, or I remember the basic plot so the details are sinking in more. Previously, for me, this seemed like a very plot-driven book. This time, I'm getting hung up on character portraits.

Not so much the main characters -- Andrei, Pierre, Nikolai, Natasha are all pretty much what I remembered them to be. But Dolokhov is more interesting this time. Bagration. Kutuzov. Denisov. Boris. Each embodies a different strategy for leading, for winning. (Bagration in particular, while utterly useless in social situations, is my kind of leader -- whatever his troops happened to do turned out to be exactly what he had wanted them to do. And by god, it gave them confidence, and pretty well worked!)

Fathers stand out. Prince Bolkonsky and Count Rostov, aging fathers completely at the mercy of their emotions (although one is furious, the other jolly). Count Bezukhov, who gave his son no guidance whatsoever, vs. Prince Vasily, who places his children where they will be useful, like furniture.

I am also struck by Tolstoy's preoccupation with the difference between what people think is real, and what is in fact real. The truth is sometimes unknowable. That idea strikes me as very... well, postmodern, of all things. The world is too complex for us to untangle.

Bleah. This book is too complex to untangle. Here's to better organization in the future, and to (maybe!) catching up!