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War and Peace (Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude) Paperback – May 22, 2016
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It is highly readable. Translating texts is always difficult, because you want to retain the feel of reading a Nineteenth century work but use language that makes the work accessible. Personally, I found some editions (Barnes & Noble, Penguin) to be hard to read and comprehend, especially when you first begin. This edition is a relative breeze to read.
It has French translations. When reading the Signet edition, I found myself using google translate to understand sentences or phrases left in the book in French. Other editions translated most of the French but left phrases here and there untranslated and in the text, without footnotes. I understand in the original, Tolstoy wrote entire passages in French but provided translations in the foot notes. This edition follows that pattern. There are entire passages in French, but they are translated in the footnotes on the page.
It has historical end-notes and an index. I am not unfamiliar with European and Russian history, but I, like most people, have no more knowledge than what I learned in my freshman world history class. This work has end notes in the text to provide context. Though it slows me down, I find myself flipping to the back of the book and reading every end note when the text provides it. I cannot stress enough how helpful this has been. The index is likewise helpful. It is an alphabetical list and short biography of the historical characters and places mentioned in War and Peace.
It includes a short chapter summary. At the very end of the book, there is a chapter summary for a collection of chapters sharing a theme or describing the same event. The summary is no more than a sentence long and provides a nice refresher when you are trying to recall what happened when.
Compared to editions that translate all the French, reading in the footnotes can be burdensome. I personally don't mind, but I can see how that might trip some people up.
If you are looking for a copy of War and Peace, this is the one to get. Trust me.
Set against the backdrop of Napoleonic Europe, the story follows three main Russian families as they navigate the early years of the nineteenth century. Plot? Is there one? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The background history of the Napoleon Wars are what set in motion a lot of the action, especially for the male protagonists who fight in the wars. For the females it seems that love and falling in love and out of love and the passage to adulthood are what drives their stories. Our main protagonist is Pierre Bezukhov, a mirror for Tolstoy himself. The ideas Bezukhov spouts are usually the ideas Tolstoy believes in and wants you to believe in too. Pierre is the illegitimate son of a rich aristocrat.
The other families are the Bolkonskys and the Rostovs. The Bolkonskys are right and proper with an autocratic father from one of the lower levels of Hell. The Rostovs are more homely and not so rich but full of love. There are also a couple of other families that play parts such as the Kuragins, who play the part of the somewhat "evil" characters. The cast of characters is indeed large as many say. But honestly the main characters that the book follows number about 5 to 10. So it's manageable. Aside from Pierre Bezukhov, there is Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, Princess Marya Bolkonskaya, Countess Natalya Rostova, Count Nicholas Rostov, and Helene Kuragina. The rest of the characters are secondary and even Helene is not that important.
The book itself is hard to describe. Is it a novel? Tolstoy didn't think so. Is it history? Though there are huge stretches on the philosophy of history, this is not a history book. Nor is it philosophy. At leas not necessarily good philosophy. It is something unique. Perhaps that is why War and Peace has attained the status of classic. It is a book that attempts to give one a complete (at least complete aristocratic) view of Russian society between the years 1805 and 1812. Perhaps the German word, 'Gesamtkunstwerk' - total work of art - should be applied to literature.
I read the eBook Pevear-Volokhonsky transalation that goes for $12.99. It was a good translation that captured the spirit of the times. The notes and translations of the French were all hyperlinked which made things easy enough to read and follow. Though I would rather have seen the notes on the bottom of each page rather than the end of each book. Having finished War and Peace, I am glad that I read it. Though I am still not quite certain if it should be regarded as such as a classic. Is it truly that great? I'm still not sure.