Reading War & Peace #11: One Woman’s Journey to Healing a Broken Leg

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

Two weeks ago I teased an Andrew tribute post and he died, so I refocused my energy on Kutuzov. And… now he’s dead. Leo? Are you there? Got yourself a little WordPress? Also, what’s with the Game of Thrones business going on? Prince Bolkonski x2, Helene, Kutuzov, Petya. I mean, there really were a bit too many characters, but is this the best way to go about solving that problem? Can people still die in an epilogue?

And yes, if you had a double-take at that last sentence – you read correctly! WE’RE DONE-ish. I read fifty pages today, which might not sound like much, but with this book and my level of laziness, it’s a record-shattering achievement. Now we only have the two epilogues left, which I recently read a very angry Goodreads review about, basically recommending to just slice off that bit and burn it, so that should be interesting.

The past week was mostly a very detailed description of the French leaving Russia, and Tolstoy’s historical analysis and musings. Or, to sum up about 100 pages, Kutuzov was an unrecognized genius, Napoleon wasn’t (unrecognized or a genius), and the minute the French army started falling apart in Moscow they were done for, and any other intervening on the Russians’ part was unneccessary and did not or could not change or affect the course of history in any way other than what ended up happening. Tolstoy actually works out some fascinating military science theories he has over the course of books Fourteen and Fifteen. Even if you haven’t ever read War and Peace, and don’t plan on doing so, I would highly recommend even just reading the first two chapters of Book Fourteen. There are some unexpected variables in there (yes, the scary math kind), but it’s all explained in such simplicity that you can’t help but fall in love with history, and with the beauty and logic of it all. If history was taught the way Tolstoy spoke of it, we’d all be much more educated, much more understanding of ourselves and the world. I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say that humanity itself might very well have evolved into a much better place than the one we’re drowning in today.

I’ve also been thinking this past week about how weird it is to find myself sympathizing with the Russians, falling in love with this country, when in reality if I glance up from the book and into a newspaper, well, things are very different. It’s like the idea of Russia has become this disconnected thing for me – there’s Tolstoy’s Russia, and then there’s the rest of history all the way up to 2017, and the two don’t conflate, like some sort of alternate realities. There’s also the fact that we’re all so used to reading history from the side of the “enlightened”, which usually just stands for Western European, and suddenly we’re in Moscow, not Paris, and when I say we I see Pierre and Natasha, Dokholov and Denisov, our army and our people. And then I think of present day Russia and freak out. I wonder what Tolstoy would think. Not just of Russia, but of everything he missed out on. Just imagine Tolstoy-written historical fiction of the two world wars he didn’t get to see.

I came into this plan with an embarrassing amount of knowledge regarding the Napoleon Wars, and also geography in general. I had this whole plan to open up maps, read up on history, etc. etc., and while I definitely did some of that (I highly recommend understanding the layout of 1800s Europe, and also Book Drum, the most useful, simple, and fun War and Peace reading companion I could possibly imagine), in the end what I’ll remember is not the dates I read on Wikipedia or in the intro to the book. I’ll remember Nicholas Rostov in Schon-Gabern. I’ll remember Andrew Bolkonski in Austerlitz. I’ll remember Pierre Bezukhov in Borodino. I’ll remember the empty streets of Moscow, the fires, and how we chased the French away, as the world turned white around us.

Before I go, it’s time for my weekly wish (which so far have led to the exact opposite, but I haven’t lost faith). I read an article last week about a Japanese princess who is going to give up her royal status to marry a commoner. I assume both you and Sonya don’t read, Nicholas, so I’ll just link it right here for ya. You get me? Don’t mess it up.


previous entry here

  • Next week is going to be the last “partial” review. I will be posting a finale post sometime after that, discussing the book as a whole. If you have any questions or ideas you want me to address, let me know!

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