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War and Peace (Vintage Classics) Paperback – December 2, 2008
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—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post Book World
“A major new translation . . . [which] brings us the palpability [of Tolstoy's characters] as perhaps never before. . . . Pevear and Volokhonsky's new translation gives us new access to the spirit and order of the book.”
—James Wood, The New Yorker
“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, The New York Review of Books
"Tolstoy's War and Peace has often been put in a league with Homer's epic poems; it seems to me that the same might be said for Pevear and Volokhonsky's translation of his great novel. . . . Their efforts convey a much closer equivalent in English to the experience of reading the original."
—Michael Katz, New England Review
Full review here: http://www.nereview.com/29-4/29-4Katz.htm
About the Author
Richard Pevear has published translations of Alain, Yves Bonnefoy, Alberto Savinio, Pavel Florensky, and Henri Volohonsky, as well as two books of poetry. He has received fellowships or grants for translation from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the French Ministry of Culture. Larissa Volokhonsky was born in Leningrad. She has translated works by the prominent Orthodox theologians Alexander Schmemann and John Meyendorff into Russian.
Together, Pevear and Volokhonsky have translated Dead Souls and The Collected Stories by Nikolai Gogol, The Complete Short Novels of Chekhov, and The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, Notes from Underground, Demons, The Idiot, and The Adolescent by Fyodor Dostoevsky. They were twice awarded the PEN Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize (for their version of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and for Tolstoy's Anna Karenina), and their translation of Dostoevsky's Demons was one of three nominees for the same prize. They are married and live in France.
- Lexile Measure : 1200L
- Item Weight : 2.2 pounds
- Paperback : 1296 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1400079985
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400079988
- Product Dimensions : 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
- Publisher : Vintage; Vintage Classics ed. edition (December 2, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The beauty of the prose, for me, is the fact that Tolstoy speaks through subtlety. His powers of description are beyond comparison, and in fact there is relatively little dialogue given the length of the book. But the focus of his descriptive powers is not the scenery or the landscape, as is often the case, but the gesture, the look on the face, the social context of the event. This is a subtlety that is lost in our dialogue-heavy, action-packed world today, and is almost foreign to most contemporary authors.
Which, in part, also explains why War and Peace seems inapproachable to many contemporary readers. Many of us have lost touch with subtlety and if you are one of those, reading this book would be the greatest gift you can give yourself in the months ahead.
“Helene was so good-looking that there was not only not a trace of coquetry to be seen in her, but, on the contrary, it was as if she was embarrassed by her unquestionable and all too strongly and triumphantly effective beauty. It was as if she wished but was unable to diminish the effect of her beauty.” When was the last time you read such a descriptive passage that used so few descriptive adjectives?
One of the common criticisms of the book is that the characters often speak in French, which is retained in this translation. This is more true in the beginning, however, and, in total, the French represents a small portion of the total prose. And translation is provided, although the electronic version requires a certain amount of digital (as in fingers) dexterity that I don’t seem to have.
Tolstoy, however, is sensitive to the inconvenience and I can’t recall a single passage in which the French was central to either the theme or the storyline. It is mostly there for context, so even if you pass over the short phrases you will miss little other than the full experience that Tolstoy intended. Also remember that French and English are not all that foreign to each other and the most important words in French can be easily guessed by English readers with a little lingual abandonment.
Similarly, the complexity of Russian naming conventions need not be the burden it often is to the English reader. Tolstoy most definitely wrote a novel, not a mystery thriller, although he claims that it is not a novel. The storyline is not the book; it serves the theme. That, along with the rich context provided by Tolstoy’s prose, means that you don’t have to recognize each name before you complete the sentence. Nine times out of ten the identity will become obvious before the scene ends. And for that exception there is a handy reference guide. My advice: when you encounter a name that you don’t immediately recognize, read on for a bit before you look it up.
As a thematic novel, it is not Tolstoy’s intent to document the Napoleonic wars, although that is the rough timeline of the book. He uses the history more to reveal the cultural themes he seeks to reveal—the culture of the Russian aristocracy at the time.
While that culture contrasts sharply with the way in which most Americans are inclined to think of Russia, the themes are quite timeless. There are many passages which could as easily be describing today’s aristocracy—the wealthy elite. As Yogi Berra reminded us, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Tolstoy is particularly philosophical about war. When I asked a friend of mine who was a Marine veteran who served in the jungles of Vietnam what he thought about the movie, “Saving Private Ryan”, he noted that no one has ever been able to capture the sheer chaos of war on film. Tolstoy, however, does capture it in prose and it is moving without being graphic or overly detailed. You nonetheless feel that you are immersed in the same situational context as the young infantryman thrown about in the chaos of futility and death.
In the end, this book easily earns its reputation as one of the best novels ever written. Through his grasp of subtlety and his incomparable ability to build intangible impressions with tangible prose, Tolstoy takes us through the full range of human emotions, accomplishment, and vacuity.
Unlike most contemporary authors, Tolstoy actually “tells” us little. As many great novels do, he merely puts themes out there for us to consider and mold to our own experience and our own lives. You will be surprised at how much of yourself you find in early 19th Century Russian characters and events. If not timeless, the insight and the human revelation are universal. As Tolstoy himself wrote, “We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”
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.
Please buy a different edition, perhaps one that is published by people who actually want you to be able to READ the text inside the book. if I could give this edition of the book LESS than one star I would.
Top reviews from other countries
I started reading this printed version of this and it soon became clear that the sheer weight of the book (and I mean actual physical weight rather than the density of the plot) meant that my forearms were aching after a few hours. I found a good way to counter the impact of the pain in my arm was to intersperse the reading with the Kindle edition and I recommend purchasing both. There are literally hundreds of characters in the story and these are listed in the appendices of the book and it is useful to have this at hand to refer to. Tolstoy does not make things easy and some characters are known but two and sometimes three or more different names and he uses these seemingly indiscriminately.
I always prefer an actual physical book but, in this case it was more of a need than a want. I found that this works best when you completely immerse yourself in the world that Tolstoy describes here and read not only the book, but the history of the period and also watch the film and TV adaptations of this epic story. I will not go into the actual story of War and Peace, suffice to say it is completely epic and you live rather than merely read this classic of world literature. Having researched the various translations, it seems that this Vintage edition with the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is the one that is best regarded for modern readers and is the one to go for.
If you want to totally immerse yourself into the world of 19th century St Petersburg, Napoleon, the heroic Pierre Bezokhov and the beautiful Natasha Rostov I would thoroughly recommended this version. It would certainly suit anyone who might be, for example, cooped up at home for several weeks with nothing to do.
I can say now that my enjoyment of this piece of literature has been heavily influenced by that wonderful piece of televisual art.
Before turning the last page of this Herculean novel, which had lain neglected on my bookshelf for more than five years, War and Peace was a pending task in my mental reading universe, knowing it to be one of the greatest Russian or maybe simply one of the greatest novels of all times.
This book is probably already lying on your bookshelf. It has probably been there for years, since university, perhaps.
Start reading it this evening.
I should also mention that this was a tired purchase. I bought it after little sleep late at night...