As you may have noticed, my book reviews have been less frequent as of late. The last three months I’ve been doing some hardcore reading. Today, I’m excited to say, I’ve finished all 1224 pages of War and Peace. Yayyyy!
In reading War and Peace I learned so much. Contrary to what most might expect, I actually enjoyed reading it, so much so I’m a little sad it’s over. (Wow that might be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever said. 😳🤓) When you’re with characters for over 1000 pages, they become very dear to your heart.
You may be wondering – and I’ve been asked this literally countless times – “What is War and Peace about?”
Well, my friend, you’ve asked a great question. (*pushes imaginary glasses up her nose*)
Simply put, War and Peace is a masterpiece of literature. I know that sounds so cliche, but it’s true. After finishing this massive work I understand why they call it the greatest novel ever written. It may even be my new favorite book. (Welp, there’s no hiding how much of a nerd I am now.)
Tolstoy is not like other authors of his era. Although he covers a CRAZY amount of history in the course of War and Peace he does so in a way uniquely his own. (Did you know that scholars aren’t even sure what to classify War and Peace as? No one can decide what category it fits in.)
Yes, he does go on long philosophical spiels about Napoleon, Russia, and the Napoleonic wars, but his point is not to make us see these as grand sweeping events (as most historians have painted this era). Rather he is trying to make us see that in the midst of war, there is peace, and in the midst of peace, there is war.
He wants us to realize that we can’t get so caught up in this grand idea of history we forget all the beautiful little moments that make up our lives.
The point is to make us understand that it is God behind everything – the grand and the little.
Let me explain: War and Peace centers around six young men and women (mostly… there’s like over 200 people mentioned in the book) and their struggle to find meaning. In telling us each of their stories Tolstoy brings us to the conclusion that history is not just brought about by “great” men like Napoleon, instead it is compromised of the little everyday details of people’s lives.
This idea is best exemplified in the character Pierre.
All of his life, Pierre struggles in find meaning in all the wrong things; politics, philosophy, love, luxury, women, wine… he’s tried it all but nothing answers the terrible question burning in his heart – “Why?”
(Sounds like the book of Ecclesiastes doesn’t it? “Vanities of vanities, says the Preacher…”)
Over and over he asks himself why; why is life important.
” ‘Nothing is either trivial or important, it’s all the same; only save yourself from it as best you can!’ thought Pierre. ‘Only not to see it, that dreadful it!’ ”
It isn’t until he has experienced a great deal of suffering that he truly finds the meaning in life.
That is, to love others and to find joy in what God has given you.
“But even then, in moments he regarded as his own weakness, his mind had penetrated this distance, and there, too he had seen the petty, the humdrum, the meaningless. Now he had learned to see the great, the eternal, and the infinite in everything, and therefore, in order to see it, to enjoy contemplating it, he had natually abandoned the spyglass he had been looking through until then over people’s heads, and joyfully contemplated the ever-changing, ever-great, unfathomable, and infinite life around him. And the closer he looked, the calmer and happier he became. This terrible question ‘Why?’ which formerly had destroyed all his mental construction, did not exist for him now. Now, to this simple question ‘Why?’ a simple answer was always in his soul: because there is God, that God without whose will not a single hair falls from man’s head.”
Every character in this book is striving for happiness and Tolstoy brings us to see that happiness cannot be found when we focus our minds on what is vain. We must focus on what is above. (Colossians 3:2)
Now, there’s soooo much more I could say about the meaning of War and Peace. But then I would be writing a ten-page essay and not a nice short blog post for you all to read.
So, instead of writing an essay, I’ll answer the other question I was asked when I carried this hefty volume under my arm, “Why would you read that?”
So many reasons!
1) Like said for most of this post, the message is amazing! War and Peace is spectacular in its overall message. Of course, I did not agree with everything Tolstoy said, but his overarching point was life changing.
2) The characters! What would War and Peace be without our dear Pierre, lovely Natasha, stern Andrei, proud Nickolai, pious Marya, and sweet Sonya? It has been said that these characters are some of the most human you will ever find in literature. And it’s true. No other work of fiction I have read has so faithfully portrayed people in all their fickleness and quirks. I love these characters. Love love love them.
3) War and Peace is no humdrum book. While being deep and philosophical, it’s also extremely emotional.
Tolstoy really developed a roller coaster of a plot line! There were nights when I was reluctant to put down the book. (I know, surprising for a book written in the 1800s. *winks* You’ll find most classics aren’t all that boring.)
4) Tolstoy’s writing is brilliant. His rich descriptions of people and his character development had me hooked literally from the first page. I was surprised how readable and engaging his wonderful writing was.
Even when talking about history or something philosophical, it still was interesting. He makes some pretty good points.
Also, can we just admire his ability to write about history, battlefields, war details, ballrooms, dressing gowns, romance, farm life, family life, and politics??? That’s some talent friends.
5) I appreciated how everything negative in War and Peace was there for a reason. Poor lifestyles, character flaws, and rawness of detail all served to make valuable points about certain characters and events. Honestly, I think many authors today forget that these old books didn’t have sensational story lines just to be dramatic. Tolstoy (and authors of there era) actually had a point in writing.
6) Bragging rights. Okay so I know it’s wrong to brag… but wouldn’t you like to have said that that copy of War and Peace sitting on your shelf has actually been picked up?
Before I wrap up, and I know you’re wondering when this post will end, I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes from War and Peace. Don’t worry, I narrow it down to five… well… I’ll try.
” ‘Sonya! Sonya!’ the first voice was heard again. ‘How can you sleep! Just look how lovely it is! Ah, how lovely! Wake up Sonya,’ she said almost with tears in her voice. ‘There’s never, never been such a lovely night… No, just look, what a moon! … Ah, how lovely! Come here. Darling dear heart, come here. Well, you see? I’d like to sit on my heels, like this, take myself by the knees – tight, as tight as possible, you’ve got to strain – and fly away! Like this!’ ”
” ‘ If there is God and if there is a future life, then there is truth, there is virtue’ and man’s highest happiness consists in striving to attain them. We must live, we must love, we must believe,’ said Pierre, ‘ that we do not live only today on this scrap of earth, but have lived and will live eternally there, in the all’ (he pointed to the sky).”
“How is it I haven’t seen this lofty sky before? And how happy I am that I’ve finally come to know it. Yes! Everything is empty, everything is deception, except this infinite sky. There is nothing, nothing except that. But there is not even that, there is nothing except silence, tranquillity. And thank God!…”
” ‘Love? What is love?’ he thought. ‘Love hinders death. Love is life. Everything, everything I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is connected only because of that. Love is God…’ ”
(I would have reworded that and said that God is love.)
“She was looking there, where he had gone, to the other side of life. And that side of life, of which she had never thought before, which before had seemed so far off and unbelievable, was now closer and dearer, more comprehensible, to her than this side of life, where everything was either emptiness and ruin or suffering and offense.”
“Pierre’s insanity consisted in the fact that he did not wait, as before, for personal reasons, which he called people’s merits, in order to love them, but love overflowed his heart, and, loving people without reason, he discovered that unquestionable reasons for which it was worth loving them.”
There’s a thousand other quotes I wish I could share with you, but then this already lengthy post would be even longer.
Odd as it may seem, I’m still a little sad this book is actually over. It feels so strange to think that of reading anything else after three months of the same book!
Although War and Peace is one of the longest pieces of western literature, I highly encourage all of you to read it. I think you’ll find it to be a great deal better than you would have thought. (Also, thank you for sticking with me in this rambley post. With a book as long as War and Peace it was hard to keep this post concise.)
(All pictures from Pinterest. Movie pictures are from the BBC 2016 version.)