War and Peace – Review

Let’s talk about big books. Big books, especially classics, can be the most meaningful experiences in reading, forming lasting impressions. But I have to admit, I have not always felt that way. There was a time when page number and book size intimidated me but no more! I give 2 books credit for changing my perspective; War and Peace and Gone With the Wind, both for different reasons.

So let’s jump right into some of my thoughts and feelings for the renowned and infamous, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

He [Prince Ippolit] spoke with such self-confidence that his hearers could not be sure whether what he said was very witty or very stupid.

I pondered this passage and asked myself several times the same thing, am I very witty or possibly very stupid for reading this book? As the author of the book, I wondered the same about Tolstoy. War and Peace was never on my TBR for any time in my life. However, I gave in to some positive peer pressure to join a buddy read group on bookstagram (and might I add an enticing cover because who doesn’t buy pretty books)?

We set a reasonable schedule, adjusting when necessary since this epic literary giant is not a book you will find yourself sprinting through, or at least we didn’t and wisely adopted a marathon pace.

War and Peace has a long cast of characters (about 559) with many diminutives and nicknames and it took a good chunk of Book One to get them straight in my mind. I asked myself so many times, “is this the same person, who are they related to, what family are they from,” et cetera et cetera, I think you catch my drift. (Note: this is one of the books on the list of The Great American Read featured on PBS).

The principal characters from prominent families include the Rostóvs (Count Níkolai and sister Natásha), the Bolkónskys (Prince Andréi and sister Princess Márya), the Kurágans (Princess Eléna and heathen brother, Prince Ánatole) and of course, Pierre Bezúkhov, who becomes a Count after his father’s death.

We follow these characters for approximately 15 years, when they are young people with musings about what they will do with their lives, what parties and social events they will attend, who they promised to marry as youngsters versus who they become. From 1805 to 1820 their lives and expectations are affected and shaped by social proprieties in various degrees along with the events leading up to and during the times of the Napoleonic wars and the French invasion on Russia. With historical aspects and persons such as Alexander I, Catherine II the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte and, yes, you guessed it, a host of many characters, War and Peace takes you on a journey unlike any other I’d be on in my classic reading.

“Patience and time are my warriors, my champions.” ~ Kutuzov, Commander in Chief

Apropos advice found in this quote from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. It takes much patience and time to read this book and at just over 1300+ pages, I feel I can read anything.

What I did like:

  • The historical aspects of this book are fascinating, the research to create the background is intrgiuing. Tolstoy was a soldier in the Crimean War so I’m sure his experience served him well in penning the war portions. I have more thoughts but let’s stick to the positive. Not remembering much about the Napoleonic Wars from history class or the invasion of Russia by the French army in the 1800s did at times pique my interest. One of my favorite genres is historical fiction so this was an appealing aspect of the book and some motivation to keep reading.
  • Character development – the principal characters in the book grow and mature as the story progressed. Tolstoy pulls you into the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the main characters. We see Andréi and Pierre in various parts of the book try to come to terms with life; how to find happiness, how and can you live a purposeful life? Does duty negate these endeavors, can a person be happy and find love in their marriage instead of deceit, malice and manipulation? How can you use your life to help others instead of living selfishly? I began to feel a kinship with many of the characters including Pierre and Márya. Their sincerity, feelings and capacity for compassion are memorable. Well once I figured out who’s who of course (lol). There were many times in Book 2 I really could not stop reading. I was waiting to see how their lives would turn out.
  • There are some well penned passages, making this a highly quotable and discussion worthy book.

Quotes

“There is nothing certain, nothing at all except the unimportance of everything I understand, and the greatness of something incomprehensible but all-important.”

“Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly. It is the one thing we are interested in here.”

“It was as if the thread of the chief screw which held his (Pierre) life together were stripped, so that the screw could not get in or out, but went on turning uselessly in the same place.”

“All we can know is that we know nothing. And that’s the height of human wisdom.”

“I should not have believed anyone who told me that I was capable of such love. It is not at all the same feeling that I knew in the past. The whole world is now for me divided into two halves: one half is she, and there all is joy, hope, light; the other half is everything where she is not, and there all is gloom and darkness…”

Could we not talk about these in the context of the story or on their own merit alone? As I look back at my copy of the book, there are page flags and notes of paper in various places. I believe one more thing I have regrets about as I look back at War and Peace, is annotating, I think I should have. See my musings on annotations here.

What I didn’t like:

  • Why were there so MANY characters? Some of the war parts were too long most of the time. I got tired of reading and wanted to skip a lot of it, but there was one scene early in the book where Kutuzov falls asleep during one of the war strategy meetings. I almost fell out of my chair laughing.
  • There were some parts that dragged forever. Maybe that’s what Tolstoy was trying to help us understand, war is long and pointless?

A summary of each part:

  • Book 1- slow and steady
  • Book 2- Things get interesting (probably my favorite part of the whole book)
  • Book 3- slow and sometimes interesting
  • Book 4- boring until you get back to the main characters
  • Epilogue – wasted opportunity – read Part 1 ONLY- 🛑 STOP HERE -don’t read any of Part 2 (I wanted to scream out loud in misery and almost gauged my eyes out except I need them to read more)

Tips for reading War and Peace

  • Character list – flag it and refer to it often (until you can get the characters straight)
  • Pace yourself- this is no page turner, stay up all night type of book. You will get tired so set small goals, read a few chapters, have a snack, read a few chapters, have some tea. See next tip
  • Snacks– consume lots while reading – my favorite was chips, sushi and ice cream sandwiches
  • #buddyread – if I weren’t reading with a group I would have easily given up. I highly recommend reading with others – give each other time to catch up and adjust your reading schedule accordingly.

There is nothing certain, nothing at all except the unimportance of everything I understand, and the greatness of something incomprehensible but all-important.

You also get major book nerd cred (a readers badge) for finishing this beastly book. A few of us had some negative side effects during and after reading this one but I’ll reserve those comments for another time.

So there you have what I’ll call #Tips4Tolstoy or should that be #TipsyAfterTolstoy? (Yes, Tipsy is the one I picked too).

What big book have you read recently and what advice do you have for tackling some of those classics must reads?

21 thoughts on “War and Peace – Review

    • booksbythecup says:

      Thanks for stopping by & reading this one. I read this book before I started my blog and never thought to post about it here but after some discussion about this book and Moby Dick last week I thought it might be helpful. When you do start please share your thoughts too!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Sandra says:

    This is brilliant 🙂 I read the great tome when I was very much younger – back in the day when I read a classic simply to say that I’d read it. I remember almost nothing of the experience – but I can say that I’ve read it. Take from that what you will. 😐

    I have some Russian classics on my classics club list. I’ve not thought of reading any of them yet; I am scared of Russian classics if truth be told. They seem so long and so… vast in scale. It occurs to me that perhaps I should read this one again as a way back in. Read it properly this time, taking on board your valuable tips. Like it or loathe it, War and Peace remains the daddy of Russian Literature in my head.

    As I read your thoughts, Shell, I couldn’t decide whether you enjoyed the book, or the experience of reading the book, or not? I’d love to know. And I’m agog to know your thoughts on Gone With the Wind! (FictionFan LOVED that one! 😉 )

    Liked by 3 people

    • booksbythecup says:

      You ladies (including FF) are helping me feel more comfortable with my book ramblings. 😊 I guess that’s the beauty of a blog, you can go on a bit longer especially if the topic is one like this one.

      Since my traumatic experience with War and Peace I’ve been afraid to return to Russian literature; I have Anna Karenina which many seem to love but again Tolstoy trauma. I had a small blurb in this post initially about my final thoughts, I’m somewhere in the middle, it had great potential but it fell short for me. I can’t completely say I hated it but I can’t stand I loved it.

      I’ve been thinking seriously about Crime and Punishment but I don’t have a copy yet.

      Gone With the Wind is one I really enjoyed although I wanted to slap (some sense into) Scarlett several times. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. FictionFan says:

    Great review! Hahaha – definitely Tipsy! It’s a few years since I read it – took me about two months I think, maybe three – and the really sad thing is that very little of it has stayed in my memory, I think because my eyes were glazed over most of the time with the effort to try to a) work out who everyone was and b) care! I do remember enjoying a lot of the war scenes, which is quite odd because normally I’m not a fan of reading about war (the actual war stuff – I love reading about the lives of people caught up in war). But I found I didn’t care about any of the characters which stopped me getting emotionally involved in the book. And as for that final section! Well, let’s just say it’s lucky Tolstoy was already dead, or I might have been tempted to commit murder! I’m glad you seem to have got on better with it than I did.

    Yes, you must post Gone with the Wind! Don’t listen to a word Sandra says – I was extremely rude about GotW when I tried to read it recently. All those frocks!! 😉

    If you ever fancy going back to war in Russia, I highly recommend And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov, set before, during and after the Russian Revolution. It affected me the way I had hoped W&P might, but didn’t. (And it’s only about half the length…)

    Liked by 3 people

    • booksbythecup says:

      Thank you. 🙈😊 I have to admit the discussions with someone else was key in my retaining some of the details although I didn’t elaborate here too much on them. I sometimes use audiobooks to help me get started with a classic but it felt impossible to do so with this one so I read every single page until Part 2 of the epiloge by which point I felt as you did, slap Tolstoy or hurt him. 😂

      Some of the war parts were not bad but then Tolstoy would run off on a tangent and then my eyes would glaze too. So needless to say he’s traumatized me with reading any of his other books anytime soon and with Russian literature.

      I’d be happy to look up your recommendation. Maybe I can talk my group into a buddy read.

      Gone With the Wind, I have lots of feelings about that one. I read it last year too but it was a completely different experience than with War and Peace. 😂

      Liked by 2 people

      • booksbythecup says:

        I guess I’ll have to work on a review for here too since I read the before starting the blog. I want to say more but won’t spoil it for you. Lol, but I’ll give you a hint, I liked it much more than War and Peace although I wanted to hurt Scarlett several times. 😂

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    This is quite an accomplishment – you should be proud! I love your tips. I think buddy reads are EXCELLENT for long books. I was in one for Middlemarch a couple of years ago and it really enhanced my experience – not to mention it kept my motivation going, because I didn’t want to drop out of the buddy read! By the way, I love that book.

    I have a Tolstoy on my CC list – Anna Karenina. I think many of your tips would apply to that one too, probably!

    Liked by 2 people

    • booksbythecup says:

      Thanks! Buddy reads are some of the eBay experiences. I loved Middlemarch too! In March this year I was in a buddy read and everyone enjoyed it. Definitely a great book, I can see myself reading it again. It’s the book that convinced me annotation can be a good thing. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Grab the Lapels says:

    I’ve been sitting on a copy of Brothers Karamazov for ages, hoping for some motivation or a buddy read–something. Your advice makes me feel better, though. Perhaps B.K. should be a slow read….one chapter per morning, perhaps?

    When I was a young adjunct professor, I realized just how huge the gap in my Victorian reading was, so I sat in on a class at the University of Notre Dame called “The Victorian Universe.” We read Middlemarch, Vanity Fair, and Bleak House. All three are the size of War & Peace. I was so proud of myself. However, I regret that I stupidly created my own character list when I could have printed one off from Wikipedia! Even in class I want to be surprised by a book, but that isn’t the point. It’s better to read the entire plot, characters, etc. on Wikipedia first so I can look for things on the first read.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jane says:

    What a great review! It took me months to read and by the end I was crying with frustration, I just wanted him to STOP. Now that it’s been a few months and I can bear to talk about it, I did enjoy it, and I’m very glad I’ve read it (he’s referenced so often, it’s good to know what they’re talking about!). My favourite moment was at a party when Rostov sees that Anatole is making a bee line for his daughter, it was pure farce. And then he is so wise, I wasn’t expecting so much peace and love, what a hippy! But another Tolstoy? Not for a long, long time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • booksbythecup says:

      Congratulations to you for finishing this one! 🏅 You get the readers medal of merit and endurance. 😊

      Thank you so much for reading my ramblings on War and Peace. I sometimes use audiobooks to help me keep a good pace with some longer classics but to be honest it didn’t work with this one (translation difference too) because I was confused about who as who for a while. I can look back with satisfaction on reading and finishing this one last year (although Anna Karenina stares at me from my classics bookshelf)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jane says:

    Hooray, I love a medal! I wanted to say that your copy is beautiful, mine was as well (!) and had a full list of characters at the beginning which now I’ve read your review I see even more how useful it was (if that makes sense?) Good luck with AK, I’ve got Doctor Zhivago looking at me, which I’m determined to have finished by the end of the year.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Jane Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s