War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace has been on my book bucket list for a long time.
Other people may have life bucket lists, but mine involves books. What can I say?
I picked up a copy of War and Peace years ago. I don’t actually know when, but it was published in 1993 by Barnes & Noble.
Yes, that’s right, I purchased a bargain classic print of War and Peace from the big box store.
The first book I ever downloaded on to my Kindle was War and Peace. This is an important note, because when at the end of 2016 I decided that NOW is the time I will read War and Peace, I forgot I owned this digital copy. Instead, I went old-school and read my monster of a book.
As it turns out, my book was not the entire monster of a book. I was halfway through before I realized I’d been working my way through an abridged version.
So, there’s about 400 pages of War and Peace out there I still haven’t read, which are probably part of the unabridged version sitting on my Kindle.
It took me three leisurely weeks to read War and Peace (abridged). Over these weeks, my teenager repeatedly asked what the book was about.
Me: “Well, it’s about war…”
Her: “And peace?”
Let’s start with this: War and Peace is historical fiction written in 1865. It is the story of many characters spanning the many years of the Napoleonic wars, with a big concentration on the events of 1812. It is written by a Russian, with a Russian perspective, for 19th century Russians.
Why should anyone who is not a 19th century Russian care about this book?
The short answer is that this book might actually be about two best friends, Pierre and Andrei. Two very different guys, on very different paths, both essentially wanting the same things, including peace, happiness, and meaning in their lives.
It’s what keeps this old story relevant and relatable in the 21st century.
I gave this book five stars, meaning it moved me both philosophically and emotionally.
This book left me bereft when I finished. I loved and hated these characters. I rooted for them, I cursed them, and I even cried for them.
For the longest time I was put off by the size and scope of War and Peace. It didn’t take me long to realize that this book is relatively straightforward compared to, say, any of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books.
My abridged version was (only) 704 pages, translated by Alexandra Kropotkin. It was fine. I was only confused a couple of times.
Ironically, what I liked best about War and Peace is probably what was missing from my abridged version. I enjoyed the narrative and story, but I really appreciated Tolstoy’s thoughts on life, and his seemingly underlying big question, “What’s the point of it all?”
The unabridged version is on my Kindle, translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude. This is considered one of the best translations available, or so I’ve heard. I am genuinely looking forward to a reread to get the full version and spend more time contemplating Tolstoy’s opinions.
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