War and Peace By Leo Tolstoy

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It is not easy to review a book that has so much in it. “War and Peace” eludes all categorizations and labels, it as much a work of fiction as it is of history and historiography. It is a book of ideas and emotions that cannot be expressed but only experienced. A universe in itself: a world of fascinating beauty and awe inspiring expanse. It defies all conventions and goes on to analyze history, war, military life, friendship, love and most of all, the meaning of life. Leo Tolstoy made sure that the reader finds all this in the book, and more.

‘Tolstoy wanted his reader to expect something deeper and broader than the romances they were used to finding in fiction. This is what he meant when claimed that “War and Peace” was not a novel. There would be no single hero and heroine and no straightforward plot, no orthodox ending. It is a book in which Tolstoy made up new rules as it expanded: a society novel turned into a family saga, only to grow into a historical chronicle and a mighty epic.’

From the soirees in 1805 to the Battle of Austerlitz in 1807, from the French invasion of Moscow to the retreat of Napoleon, there is a panorama of characters with all the emotions and psychological complexities that Tolstoy never fails to coalesce in the story. The greatness of the story comes from the weakness of its characters, all of whom make mistakes. The novel is a casebook of human inadequacy and imperfection.

Andrey and Pierre show us the complexities of existence in the modern society, and how difficult it can be to find meaning and purpose in life. Natasha is simple minded and stereotypical in many ways but still a fascinating character nonetheless. And so is Marya, but I would say Tolstoy didn’t do justice to the female characters in general.

After reading this, I am more convinced that Love is not a constant emotion, it varies. Circumstances, individual acts and a million other things influence it. The notion that love never changes or dies is naive. Of course it does change, it either increases or decreases, depending on the characteristics of your beloved and your own taste. But again, love is essentially indefinable. It is a force that decides its own course

The translation deserves greatest applause for giving distinct voices to all the characters and exploiting the subtleties of dialects and accents.

I tried to say something definitive, something solid about this book, but after many attempts I figured that I can’t. Because any judgment is bound to categorize the motifs and themes of the book, in a certain simplistic fashion. I will not do that and no one should. Let’s just say that It’s a book that you don’t just read, you live.

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