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“Shimmering....[it] offers an opportunity to see this great classic afresh, to approach it not as a monument but rather as a deeply touching story about our contradictory human hearts.” —Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World
“Excellent....an extraordinary achievement....wonderfully fresh and readable....The English-speaking world is indebted to these two magnificent translators for revealing more of its hidden riches than any who have tried to translated the book before.” —Orlando Figes, New York Review of Books
“Stunning....Pevear and Volokhonsky have mastered Tolstoy's shorter lines, his elliptical impressions.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Reading the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation, it is the artistry that leaps out, even on the first page.” —Wall Street Journal
“A major new translation . . . [which] brings us the palpability [of Tolstoy’ s characters] as perhaps never before. . . . Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’ s new translation gives us new access to the spirit and order of the book.” —James Wood, The New Yorker
About the Author
Count Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910) was born in central Russia. After serving in the Crimean War, he retired to his estate and devoted himself to writing, farming, and raising his large family. His novels and outspoken social polemics brought him world fame.
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This review is broken down into two segments, a Descriptive Summary and an Evaluative Summary. If you're already very familiar with the story of "War and Peace," you may wish to skip directly to the latter facet of my review which is essentially the critique of this particular volume.
In 1805, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Austria to expand his European empire. Russia, being an ally of Austria, stood with their brethren against the infamous Emperor. Napoleon prevailed and a treaty was ultimately signed at Tilsit. In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia, again in an effort to expand his empire. The end result of this tragic war was that Napoleon's army of about 600,000 soldiers was reduced to roughly 60,000 men as the defamed Emperor raced from Moscow (which he had taken), back across the frozen Russian tundra in his carriage (leaving his troops behind to fend for themselves) for Paris. That encapsulizes the military aspect of this work.
But the more intricate story involves both the activities and the peccadillos of, primarily, three Russian families of nobility: The Rostovs, the Bolkonskys, and the Bezukovs. The continual thorn of "The Antichrist," Napoleon, really just provides the wallpaper for this story of romance, riches, desolation, love, jealousy, hatred, retribution, joy, naiivety, stupidity and so much more. Tolstoy has woven an incredibly intricate web that interconnects these noble families, the wars, and the common Russian people to a degree that would seem incomprehensible to achieve - but Tolstoy perseveres with superb clarity and great insight to the human psyche.Read more ›
I have tried to read different translations of War and Peace, including Garnett's and Edmonds'. One thing that has always annoyed me - especially with Garnett's translation - is the tendency to use Western or Roman Catholic terms whenever something related to Christianity is involved (Edmonds does not make this mistake). Instead of using the language of Orthodoxy, we often get "holy images," attended Mass," the Virgin Mary," etc, instead of "icon," "attended Liturgy," or "the Theotokos." While invisible to most readers, to Orthodox ears it is grating. The Pevears get this right by avoiding Western terminology in speaking about things religious. And, as other reviewers have noted, it is nice to see the French broken out. As far as the quality of the language, it doesn't seem any less awkward than other translations I have read. Garnett may have turned a phrase with a bit more flare but at the expense of making Tolstoy sound like Tolstoy and more like a Victorian. I agree, too, that this version would have been nice had it been published as a three volume set. You can't really tote it around to read at work or on the bus.
One of the essential parts of the Pevear translations are the extensive explanatory notes, especially for such a historically intense novel. They are an essential part of reading this translation, they allow one to understand the plot thoroughly, rather than skimming over. The Kindle edition while linking the French translations that are normally at the bottom of the page in the book, does not link the extensive notes in the back of the book. It is normal to have a note for every page of this book.
So reading the Kindle edition retains some of the bulkiness of the actual book by forcing us to do something like this (this is on the iPhone): I see a note number, I have to save my place in the novel, go to the index, select the notes, read the note, put a placeholder in the notes, go back to the index, select the placeholder in the novel, then unselect it and keep reading, oh then there's another note on the next page, I save my place in the novel, again go to the index, select the placeholder in the notes, etc. I guess I'll get used to it, I guess the software only allows one set of footnotes not 2, but for this long novel (and my spouse suggested that he doesn't know how they'll deal with "Infinite Jest") to not link all the links there's really no excuse.
Having read all the reviews I see how disparate the reviews are and how passionate they are about War and Peace. Let me start by saying I tried to read W&P as a teen and could not get throught it so I have no basis for comparison but I find this edition extremely readable. I found the long French footnotes a distraction at times but I found myself being able to translate many of the shorter passages for myself as the book progressed. I have to say I'm in love with this book and with Tolstoy. His writting is subtle, amusing, horrifying, beautifully descriptive and places me firmily in anouther time and place. I tried not to read it too fast so as to not miss the many joys of the writting but at the same time wanting to read on to find out what happens next. Also I learned a lot about he Napoleonic Wars which I knew less about than I do now. To others who have not read W&P before as I, I heartily recommend reading this version.Do not let the 1200 pages discourage you, it will be done before you want it to be. There is a reason W&P has passed the test of time and people are still translating and reading it. It's a MASTERPIECE OF EPIC STORYTELLING!
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