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War and Peace (Penguin Classics, Deluxe Edition) Paperback – Deckle Edge, November 28, 2006
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“There remains the greatest of all novelists—for what else can we call the author of War and Peace?” —Virginia Woolf
From the Back Cover
"The best translation so far of Tolstoys masterpiece into English."
Robert A. Maguire, professor emeritus of Russian studies, Columbia University
"In Tolstoys work part of the translators difficulty lies in conveying not only the simplicity but the subtlety of the books scale and effect. . . . Briggs has rendered both with a particular exactness and a vigorous precision not to be found, I think, in any previous translation."
John Bayley, author of Elegy for Iris
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Top customer reviews
The book has a very helpful ‘Appendix’ with a summary of each chapter, succinctly delivered as ‘points’. One appreciates this when one reads this 1358 page book over a period of time and needs to refresh one’s memory before embarking upon the next ‘sitting’ to read. A nicely indexed bibliography, helps the reader fully understand the historical contexts, so much necessary in this novel which is partially based on real events and real characters. Finally, there is a helpful ‘Characters’ section,which I did not notice till I had completed the book. This lists the plethora of characters that dot the story’s landscape. Many characters share same last names and above all Tolstoy tends to refer to the same person , sometimes by first name, sometimes by the last , sometimes by his/her ‘pet’ name! If you are the technical type, there are a couple of maps as well but I followed the famous graphic by the French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard, that I already had got as a poster https://www.edwardtufte.com/tufte/posters
If I have to raise one minor grievance on the translation, it is that there is an overuse of words like sardonic, pallid, lugubrious, desultory. Perhaps these are Mr. Briggs favorite words or maybe they are equivalents of some stock Russian words that Tolstoy himself used in the original.
War and Peace has been considered the greatest novel ever written and seems this is not without reason. To praise it would be to state the obvious. Orlando Figes’ concludes in his short and nice introduction, ‘Above all War and Peace will move readers by virtue of its beauty as a work of art. It is a triumphant affirmation of human life in all its richness and complexity…’.
It is perhaps appropriate to share one’s experiences in the course of reading this epic
I experienced joy and ecstasy like no other. Joy of reading at its best. No Disney or Spielberg movie have given me this level of enjoyment and may I say exhilaration. It was so personal. I lived through the characters, imbibed the flavor of the times, entered the battle grounds, rode the thoroughbred horses, strode through the vestibules of stately mansions, smelt the perfumes wafting through manors, sat in their drawing rooms, drank in the bars, donned their costumes, suffered bodily injury and pain and even knew what it was like to die. I was awe struck at the range of emotions that a single person is capable of going through over a period, however never doubting that this was impossible, never seeing unreal.Every human emotion/experience that one can think of is represented in the pantheon of characters that appear in this epic. It is to Tolstoy’s credit that he has so beautifully portrayed perhaps every conceivable emotion in human relationships. Curiosity,infatuation,adolescent love, passion, closeness, pure and true love - all come into play. Characters serve up abundantly the very humane qualities of wisdom, bravery, patriotism, loyalty, intrigue,treachery, self doubt, righteous indignation, piety, innocence, vanity, pride and many many more.
War and Peace is also philosophical, with characters ruminating on life’s purpose and God. A young lady of pious character beautifully enunciates the principles of Christianity, albeit in a subtle way, without the reader getting the slightest hint that it is a digression.
As somebody said, it should perhaps have been named ‘Peace and War‘ because Tolstoy devotes the initial part of the book to the halcyon days enjoyed by Russian aristocracy set in villas amidst placid surroundings. The Napoleonic war sets in later and when it does, it gradually upends the lives of the main protagonists. To Tolstoy’s credit, he deftly marries these two worlds and the story meanders through with twists and turns, the war sucking in everybody in its wake, a war that also brings the main characters to the front lines. The novel dwells at length on all that is there to a war - strategies, commandeering armies, the accompanying treachery, mortalities on the field, suffering and what not. Napoleon’s famous but disastrous march to Moscow and the retreat that followed has been gone through with a fine toothed comb. At times the novel sounds more like a historical account, especially when Tolstoy seems to take a step back and starts offering his own analysis on why somebody did what they did in the war and not something else. In doing so, Tolstoy rips apart earlier historians of his period, both French and Russian, questioning their proclivity to explain happenings as the result of conscious moves made by the “great” Napoleon on the French side or efforts by able generals on the Russian end. He goes into a detailed analysis on reasons for the Russian retreat in the face of the advancing French while also exposing how uncoordinated the Russian generals were to deal a concerted onslaught. He also tries to set right the unfavorable treatment meted out by historians to General Kutuzov of the Russian Army by highlighting his wisdom and farsightedness in refusing to be drawn into battles with the French during their retreat when there were apparently grounds for doing so. Tolstoy seems to reserve choice criticisms for Napoleon and makes no secret of his opinion that the general was overrated.
The epilogue stretches too long (100 pages) and is a laborious monologue of Tolstoy’s own theories about history and how historical biographies should be written, etc.The author repeats himself many times in the course of the epilogue as well as in the main part of the book by espousing his own theories on how war histories should be written.He even ventures into philosophy and jurisprudence. If not for the fact that a small portion of the epilogue is tied to the story, the reader could have safely skipped this portion.
(If you plan to read the book you can skip the following)
Last but not least, like any reader who broods over something that has been so engaging and rewarding, I thought about the novel’s purpose. Was there a message? I am not sure whether Tolstoy intended to, but I clearly saw a message delivered at two levels - human being and humanity as a whole.. At the human level, the novel shows that good prevails over evil by way of rewarding people who are intrinsically good (Marie/Princess Marya and Pierre) or people who redeem themselves (Natasha). At the level of humanity, it shows the frivolity of war, by exposing how in the final analysis the war did not achieve any purpose other than suffering and death.