War and Peace: The First Book
I probably will end up finishing this book but I’m not sure I really
want to anymore. Unfortunately, I have this feeling when I read a lot
of the “classics.” They all write with what my middle school vice
principal called “pop” but their subject material rarely appeals to me.
And please don’t automatically assume I’m some miscreant who doesn’t
like anything if it doesn’t come in a digital format.
During the last year I’ve read a couple of books by Machiavelli, a big book on economics, and re-read Sun Tzu’s Art of War. All of those books were enjoyable reads for me. But War and Peace is different.
The First Book, which encompasses a little more than 100 pages, is
all about societal goings on. If you want to be surprised, stop
reading, but for those of you who won’t read it or have already read
- SPOILER ALERT -
The pages jump from high society party to high society party while
weaving together the destinies of Russia’s nobility (which, as the
introduction states, includes the gentry). And, if this book is true to
the period (which is early 19th century Russia, Napoleon’s star is
still on the rise in the Continent), society was as ridiculous then as
it is now. There were fancy musicians, misguided discussions about
politics/war, talk about societal intrigue, and all the bad stuff you
would expect from society.
At the center of this continuously staged noble masquerade are a
couple of currents pulling everyone away from their societal
birthrights. One is the briefly aforementioned Napoleon. Many of the
men are making preparations to leave and all, especially the women, are
happily unaware that their Russian homeland will have to be burned to
stave off the French scourge. The final hours before the Titanic hits
the iceberg comes to mind when I read this part.
The other current in this book is the surprise inheritance of one of
the biggest, if not the biggest, estate in Russia by a rich man’s
bastard son. This is the same bastard son who tied a policeman to the
back of a bear because he was drunk and thought it would be funny. I
guess even Czarist Russia had their own celebutards.
You know, maybe I’m being too hard on Leo Tolstoy here because,
while the subject material is very dull so far, there could be some
really good things to come. In the introduction to the book I am led to
believe that this book will be unlike any other book I’ve ever read.
And the subject matter is going to migrate from the warm enclave of
Russia’s upper crest to the killing fields of Europe and Russia. Plus,
this guy can just plain write.
My imagination usually has to work its butt off to fill in the holes
for most books. I have to figure out what people look like, what is
going on in the room, people’s moods, and basically everything else
other than the dialogue and the most basic scenery. Tolstoy refers to
one of the women as the “little princess” all the time, for example. At
another time you can see the pain, anguish, confusion, conniving, and
despair when the rich man dies. It’s all in his words; they paint a
picture better than most painters can with a brush.
War and Peace is a hard to penetrate book. The book’s
length is only overcome by the story’s extensive cast of characters. It
is difficult enough trying to keep track of where the story physically
is; who’s house, who’s estate, who’s party, etc. But this effort is
made all the more difficult considering the fact that there are over a
dozen important and dozens of unimportant characters to keep track of.
It’s easy to get lost in Tolstoy’s Russia.
But I’m still going to finish this book. I don’t like not finishing
a book. Hopefully things will turn around and my interest will be
piqued by the subsequent sections of this book. My feeling is that it
would not be considered one of the most important books in history if
it wasn’t a joy to read. Here’s to Book Two of War and Peace. BigT