Well, we can’t go anywhere, all events are cancelled, meeting up with friends is an international health risk, so what do you do? You read War and Peace.
I have wanted to read this book for quite some while now, I even think I put it on my to Russian to read list a few years ago, but I never got around to it, as you do. This year I put it on my Ten Big Books To Read-list, and I almost always finish those, and when my best friend said he was going to read it with one of his book clubs and invited me to join, it became even easier to start it.
However, starting it is just one thing. Finishing it was another. I didn’t expect it to be too hard, I actually really like Tolstoy, I enjoyed Anna Karenina immensely and I have read quite a few of his shorted stories as well. And the first half of the book did not disappoint me: it was everything I look for in Russian realism. Great characters, fast-paced, decent psychology: like a soap opera but you get to be snobbish about it.
After the first half I took a small break to read some other things I had to, but I was enthusiastic to pick up the second half of the book. Unfortunately, it was such a disappointment.
Roughly from the moment of the battle of Borodino, the book starts to disintegrate. There is much less space for the characters you’ve come to love, and the book starts to be boring descriptions of battlefields and long historiographic essays. And those essays are the main problem. Not because they don’t fit into the novel, it actually makes sense for Tolstoy to fit in an analysis of how historians write about these kind of moments, the problem is that he keeps repeating himself. All those essayistic parts say exactly the same and they take up so many pages. You just want to know how your favourite characters are doing in such a tumultuous time and he keeps dragging you to some kind of lecture you have heard eight times already.
My advice: read War and Peace. But maybe an abridged version, where they’ve cut these essays out of the book. Are maybe the whole version, but don’t beat yourself up about it if you find yourself skimming those pages to see when the story finally continues.