Book in Review: War and Peace

I began reading War and Peace as a challenge to myself. I wanted to see if I could do it. Leo Tolstoy's classic novel is famous for many things and brevity is not one of them. But what began as a personal challenge transformed into something that was both rewarding and refreshing, far beyond what I had anticipated.

We live in the age of the instant and the immediate. If a story does not capture us within the opening pages, we toss it out. If a television show does not pay out sufficient enjoyment by the first episode, we change the channel. So our entertainment has catered to our appetites. Stories exchange necessary character development for fast paced action sequences. Detailed and nuanced dialogue is traded for the flamboyant and the crude. In our entertainment, just like our fast food, we sacrifice quality (depth, insight, meaning) for time.

And also like fast food, we miss out.

Because there is something special about a really long, well told story. There is something to be said for an author who provides the reader ample time to understand and even befriend his tangible characters; characters that will stay with you long after the story is finished. Just like in War and Peace.

There is no question the complex and realistic characters make War and Peace the classic that it is. As I read, Natasha Rostov became my pure and innocent sister I would do anything to protect. Pierre Bezukhov became that old, childhood friend whose defeats I mourned and whose victories I rejoiced. And in Prince Andrew Bolkonsky I saw a piece of myself. The same restless heart. The same search for purpose.

These are characters who (just like in reality) never stand still. They are ever being molded by their circumstances, successes, failures, and choices that they make. They are conflicted with a slew of desires, ever competing between their contradicting natures. They have questions. They make mistakes. Some change for the better and others for the worse. Tolstoy offers us a front row seat into their internal wrestlings and invites us to root them on. There were even times when Tolstoy would describe a character's inner feelings that I felt he had put words to my own.

Additionally, Tolstoy never shies away from taking an honest look into big life questions we prefer to avoid: Questions about life and death. Of greatness and meaning. Of the horrors of war and the emptiness of earthly pursuits. It is his insight into these questions that make War and Peace more than simply entertainment.

War and Peace is a journey. Like a journey it has ups and downs—there are slow parts and there are parts you will stay up to late to read. But be warned: once you finish you may not see everything the same. And that is what makes a story a good story.


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