Tuesday, May 27, 2008

War and Peace (by Leo Tolstoy)

'War and Peace' has been called as the best novel ever written, and while there would be other favorite novels and people might consider other novels as the greatest, there is no getting around the fact that this is a great novel. War and Peace is taught in many English literature courses as an alltime great book by a great author (his other work, 'Anna Karenina' was also very famous).
The story is set around the 1812 French-Russian war where the French emperor, Napolean had invaded Russia. This was eventually a great disaster for the French, since they first managed to take Moscow (which had been abandoned by the Russians as a part of this war), but this did not do them too much good. The Russian winter had already set in, the army had to eventually return back, and they were harassed by the Cossack attacks. They lost a majority of their force in this return, and at the same time, left most of the wooden structures of Moscow burning.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The novel was published through a period from 1865 to 1869 in the 'Russkii Vestnik', and went through 2 complete different forms. Tolstoy was not happy with the first published draft, and totally rewrote the novel to get another version, that was the final published version. This original version was also published again in the last 2 decades and is now available in many languages after translation. The writing of the book in its original also reflects some of the cultural norms of the society of that time - while most of the book was in Russian, there are many dialogues that were written in French since this was the language of the French aristocracy. There is apparently a small patriotic subtext in the book as well as regards language - French is used more to denote insincerity while Russian is increasingly used to show the more honest and better part.
The book takes characters from 3 main Russian families (The Rostovs, the Bolkonskys, and the Bezukovs, along with some more associated characters), including those who are part of the nobility and those on the edge of financial ruin, and takes the movements in their life, centered around the oncoming conflict with France, and moving onto the changes that happen due to this conflict, and the aftermath. An imposing historical figure such as Napoleon is a side part of this story, it is the impressive flesh and blood tale of these Russian characters, intersection with a description of the Russian society at that time that makes this a very impressive work of fiction.
The story presents some major characters such as Pierre Bezukhov (the main character, very honest, but not worldly wise - supposed to be a reflection of Tolstoy himeself), Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky (brave, a soldier looking forward to the war), Natasha Rostova (starting out as a young girl, she goes through many trials and tribulations, and eventually gets married to Pierre), Nikolai Rostov (another soldier, also responsible for trying to keep his family from financial ruin), Sonya Rostova (a poor cousin, she was engaged to Nikolai, but eventually releases him so that he can marry the rich Princess Maria), and many other such characters.

No comments: