Reading War & Peace #4: One Woman’s Journey to Healing a Broken Leg

* translation: Louise and Alymer Maude (for page # references)

Well, hello everyone. We’ve officially finished Volume One. Good job folks. Only two more to go!

We’ve tackled tips, we’ve discussed philosphy, and now it’s time for the little humans roaming around Europe. When thinking of War & Peace one tends to imagine thousands of pages describing terrible battles, people in medieval style clothing (because anything before World War 1 is basically the Middle Ages) and lots of descriptions of noble men on horses in indecipherable English. In reality, Tolstoy actually puts a serious emphasis on the humanness of his characters – their relationships with others, their own personal thoughts, humor, sarcasm, joy and sadness. It’s still a bit weird for me. I never expected to find myself laughing. Wanting to hug these people. Or just give ’em a high-five.

“The universal experience of ages, showing that children do grow imperceptibly from the cradle to manhood, did not exist for the countess. Her son’s growth towards manhood at each of its stages had seemed as extraordinary to her as if there had never existed the millions of human beings who grew up in the same way.” (pg. 181), Tolstoy says of Nicholas Rostov and his mother. Something in the way this was phrased made me grin from ear to ear, and Rostov, a 19th century way-too-patriotic-for-my-taste soldier, who seemed so far from anything I could ever understand, became just a kid. A twenty year old kid who comes home to his worried mother.

He’s also just a kid who takes the car on the weekend, and sometimes gambles away all the money his parents gave him. “And suddenly, in the most casual tone, which made him feel ashamed of himself, he said, as if merely asking his father to let him have the carriage to drive to town: […] ‘I need some money.’ ‘Dear me!’ said his father […]” (pg. 267). 43,000 rubles of it. He then tells himself he’ll start saving up 80% of his salary every year to pay it back. Yeah right, man. Let’s be real.

On one evening, Rostov finds himself relaying his battle story to other men he seeks to impress. “He began his story meaning to tell everything just as it happened, but imperceptibly, involuntarily, and inevitably he lapsed into falsehood. […] He could not tell them simply that everyone went at a trot, and that he fell off his horse and sprained his arm and then ran as hard as he could from a Frenchman into the wood. Besides, to tell everything as it really happened it would have been necessary to make an effort of will to tell only what happened. It is very difficult to tell the truth, and young people are rarely capable of it.” (pg. 186). Without even noticing I find myself there, in that room with him, feeling his almost childish desire to be a hero, embellishing reality. During the beginning of his service Nicholas’s bubble is burst, as he discovers that war is not at all what he expected. It’s bloody and messy and painful, and sometimes when you finally find yourself facing the enemy you accidentally fall. It’s not always marvelous or magnificent, and Lieutenant Count Rostov is just a kid who wants his friends to think he’s cool. And all of a sudden we’re not in 1805, Olmutz, Moravia (now Olomouc, Czech Republic), visiting friends from the Ismaylovsky Regiment, discussing the war. We’re in 20th century high school or middle school or elementary school, telling everyone about the crazy, incredible things we did on summer vacation, hoping we’ll finally become the popular kid this year.

Hadas.

And now for a question. As I write, I wonder what brings you guys back (since I’ve noticed it’s the same few every time – thanks, by the way). Are you reading the book as well? Have you already read it? Are you planning to? Should I be avoiding spoilers? (Character-wise of course, because history, well… it’s already sort of spoiled itself.) Feel free to say hello, share your own experiences, questions, thoughts. I’m always here. (Not much you can do with a broken ankle.)


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