Monday, June 27, 2011


“The most strong, indissoluble, burdensome, and constant connection with other in people is the so-called power over other people, which in its true meaning is only the greatest dependence on them.”

I finished.

It was really a year and 5 months - of one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. And by great I mean great in theme and scope. Unmatched in scope, possibly.

I won’t spoil it, still, though there’s so much in the last volume and the first epilogue to talk about plot-wise, what the characters discover through what they go through, but the eventual destiny of those characters should be yours to discover.

The second epilogue is dedicated to Tolstoy’s view of history, basically that there is no such thing as freedom. He doesn’t go so far as to call is predestination as he does in the Appendix, which was written before the Epilogue, but he argues that there are no absolutes. Without those absolutes, be it freedom or dependence, any study of history is doomed to be partial, incorrect. As he states, we can never know concretely why large groups of people do anything. One man, Napoleon, is not responsible for all that happened during this time, though historians want to make it so.

Brilliantly, the breadth of this book, the humanity, the god’s-eye-view, are the best argument for his thesis. It’s incredible to say, but his characters are so real we don’t know them; like our friends and family we end up feeling so close to them that we can guess at, yet still be surprised by, their actions. He has created true people here, which is the greatest feat. They are not simple, not needlessly complex. With a few lucky ones, we see them grow into themselves, and can feel compassion for how they got there. They are fascinating.

I’ll miss them. I have a feeling I’ll be visiting them again.   Maybe doing some more writing as things occur to me.  And maybe with those I'll just post spoiler alerts.

There’s so much more to say, but really only one thing – read the book. Then we’ll talk.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Epilogue 1

Still reading. About 70 pages from the end. It’s bittersweet.

So much of what I’m reading makes me want to write about, savor it, share it. But so much would ruin anyone’s experience of reading it themselves, and that’s paramount.

I am deeply in love with this book. I’m kind of amazed, actually. There will be things I won’t forget – images that make me sigh, make me wince, make me tear up.

Beyond all of these is the sheer breadth of it. What a master. How sweet it is spending so much time with these people. And though an image is worth a thousand words, and I love film, I can’t believe the singular experience of reading this, especially taking so much time, could ever be duplicated.

I was thinking the other day that the wonderful thing about reading is this interface with one’s own imagination. My Natasha, Nikolai, Pierre, Andrei, Marya, my burning Moscow, my Bald Hills, my drunken Denisov will be unlike anyone else’s. But the common thread will be that same feeling when Natasha is right above Andrei in the window and it’s Spring and he’s afraid to breathe for fear of destroying the moment; that same feeling when Natasha and Nikolai go hunting and spend time at their Uncle’s house, with Natasha screaming and laughing for no reason; when Pierre is marching with no shoes, hearing a friend shot by French soldiers as he must walk on.

The book is soaked in religion and romance, but it still pulls a thread through with a humanity unlike very few books I have ever read. I’m sad to say good-bye, knowing in about 70 pages I’ll have to.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book IV - near the end

So, I'm just two epilogues away from the end.   I haven't figured a way to write about this without revealing plot, so I won't.  Suffice it to say it's touching me that deeply that I have no interest in ruining any piece of it for everyone.  It's truly beautiful and astounding in its scope.

Something so sad happened that I just had to stop for a second.  This book can break and heal your heart.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Volume IV, Book 1, Chapters V - XVI

I don’t think I can write about this anymore in the way I have been. Not that it’s not beautiful – it is. Volume IV, Book 1, has some of my favorite writing so far, and one of my favorite creations: Platon Karataev, who you have to meet. Pierre meets him in captivity. He lives in the moment in a way difficult to describe, and is a brilliant heart-warmer for the reader as much as he is for Pierre in a time when he’s needed.

“Every evening he said as he lay down: ‘Lord, lay me down like a stone, raise me up like a load’; in the morning, getting up, he always said, shaking his shoulders in the same way: ‘Lay down in a curl, got up in a whirl.’ And indeed he only to lie down in order to fall asleep at once like a stone, and he had only to shake himself in order to set about doing something at once, without a second’s delay, the way children, on getting up, take their toys….He sang songs not as singers do who know they are being listened to, but as birds do, apparently because it was necessary for him to utter those sounds…..He loved and lived lovingly with everything that life brought his way, especially other people—not any specific people, but those who were there before his eyes.”

He calls Pierre “little falcon” and says he is called that himself. He’s going down with Denisov for me as a character I’m most fond of in this book. It’s like a debater bringing in a new argument at the last minute – really, Tolstoy, you’re creating a new, thrilling, complete character this late in the game?

There’s also an incomprehensibly affecting scene of execution, where you can smell and taste the dirt the bodies are falling into – some of the most incredible writing in the book.

And the scenes between Nikolai and Marya, with his realization that he is falling completely in love with her and she with him, both in ways neither could expect or predict – beautiful.

And Sonya, having to do something truly self-sacrificing in a way she doesn’t want to, and we get to see more of who she is – I almost think T changes her in the last minute, but it’s more likely getting to know more fully someone who we’ve known a little. His characters keep surprising me – like real people I suppose.

And I don’t even want to get into what’s going on with Marya, Natasha, and Andrei.

There is also some more gorgeous writing on the liminal state lingering between life and death.

But why I am reluctant to write is that I’d have to tell you what happens. And I think you need to have your heart broken and blessed yourself. The payoff of spending this much time with a book, with knowing its people and its author, is getting to find out what happens yourself.

I’ll probably write some thoughts down, but into this volume and starting on Book 2, with so much major, major plot occurring with the characters, well, I just can’t spoil it for you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Volume IV, Book I, Chapters 1 - IV

I am beside myself.

Nikolai goes to a country dance, is the beau of the ball, and meets a woman who re-introduces him to Marya.

Marya is in mourning, it's inappropriate for her to have anything to do with him, but even Bourienne is impressed by how much her beauty comes to life. T says it's all the inner work she's done manifest on the outside.

Nikolai, of course, wants to honor his promise to Sonya, but feels different with Marya. He's been able to imagine his life with all of these other women, anyone he flirts with, but not with Marya.  He blushes when her name is mentioned.

He even plays with Andrei's son, which of course makes her swoon even more.
It's clear they're meant for each other.

What's going to happen?!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Found it!

Right after I wrote about it, I thought about having dinner at a Thai place a few weeks ago near the office on my way to rehearsal and reading there. I stopped by and they had it! They kept it!  My copy!

I'm very happy.  So reading will re-commence.

With Moscow burning, Andrei and Natasha reunited, and Pierre arrested.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Awful Truth

I went to the laundromat this afternoon where I think I left the book.  That was the last place I remember reading it.  I thought I had put it in my car as always.  After a year of carting it in my car, in and out of the office, doctors' offices, Starbucks, restaurants of every type and variety, I can't find my War & Peace.

It's addled me.  I am at Volume IV, Book I, Chapter 4.  I only have the last volume and two epilogues to go - only about 250 pages. I could go out and buy another copy, but it doesn't feel right.  I'm giving myself another week or so to find it.

Obviously more than a year as the title indicates, but very close to finishing. I have to know what happens.  And I miss everyone.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Volume III

I’m supposed to be finishing this in 2 days.

LOL, as they say.

Still, I have managed to finish Volume III, so that leaves only Volume IV and the two epilogues. Easy.

Volume III is amazing, like the others. There’s a lot of plot, so I’ll sum it up in some key points in case you’re interested

• Andrei is reported as dead
• Army deserts Moscow
• Rostov’s take forever to leave (of course)
• Natasha sees Pierre as they’re walking out of the city, in a kaftan, which is odd
• Pierre buys a gun to shoot Napoleon, but gets sidetracked in pleasant conversation with an egotistical French officer – much of Tolstoy’s opinion of the French here
• Andrei ends up in the Rostov’s courtyard as part of the wounded, all brought along on the Rostov’s train out of Moscow. It takes them forever.
• Helene is rumored to be pregnant by one of the men that she’s been possibly engaged to even though she’s already married to Pierre. Did I mention she’s trying to marry someone else. Pierre doesn’t seem to mind all that much, either
• Natasha and Andrei are reunited, though at first Andrei is hallucinating. He gets better, and they are deeply attached again
• Pierre saves a child from a burning building after the callous French leave her there to die. He attacks a Frenchman who is stealing boots from an old man, and is taken away by the French
• Helene dies from the quack, um, Doctor, from Spain who is trying to help her lose her indiscretion. Unlike, Andrei, I think this one’s for real

A lot goes on. Beautiful writing, as always, taking time and giving just the right information. It’s a marvel, actually.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Tolstoy and Russia

Still reading - just haven't been writing.

This article in the New York Times captivated me today, how Tolstoy is no longer appreciated after the fall of Communism. And the reason....drumroll please....he was excommunicated and not popular with the church. Not suprisingly, the church now has more power back.

I find it interesting reading the book, since he obviously is a great believer, just not in the church. This paragraph points that out -

The Soviets planted him at the top of their literary pantheon, largely because of the radical philosophy he preached amid the early rumblings of the October Revolution. The publication of “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” made Tolstoy so famous that one contemporary described him as Russia’s second czar. He used that position to rail against the church, as well as the police, the army, meat eating, private property and all forms of violence.

Lenin loved Tolstoy’s “pent-up hatred.” He anointed him “the mirror of the Russian Revolution,” ignoring his pacifism and belief in God. As the 50th anniversary of his death approached, the Central Committee of the Communist Party began preparing two years in advance, so a monument would be ready for unveiling.

For the centennial, in a Russia wary of utopian thought, there was nothing of the kind. By contrast, Chekhov received lavish official tributes in 2010 for his 150th birthday, including a birthplace visit from President Dmitri A. Medvedev.

It's interesting, too, as Chekhov prefigures the revolution as well, though not as overtly political as Tolstoy. How could he not at that time?

Interesting how the church comes back into power. He may have railed against the church, but reading War & Peace the spirituality, and in particular the Catholocism of the characters is never an object of fun or scorn. Princess Marya, perhaps, is a little over-the-top, but Natasha finding church and prayer is a large part of her rehabilitation after the incident with Kuragin. The soldiers, too, and the carrying of icons, is respected, even lauded at times. I don't know that Tolstoy loved the church, but he is in love with their faith. Brings tears to your eyes.

But, I guess Russia has never been that tolerant of her writers, while at the same time giving them a celebrity status that's unheard of here. And such great ones, too.

I hope he's respected again in Russia. You can't read this particular book and not see his genius. Ideas, yes, are powerful and particularly revolotionary ones, but it's sad to see the same old patterns playing themselves out.

Doesn't change my love for the book, though, and I think his work will survive. It's too good not to.