Since the fervor around Anna Karenina has died down a bit after the movie premiere this winter, there has been plenty of time to explore other master pieces by Leo Tolstoy. He is indeed a momentous Russian writer and I’ve spent some time getting acquainted with War and Peace, the epic novel written in 1869. War and Peace appeared eight years before Anna Karenina was published, and Tolstoy continued to acquire more and more popularity with readers of the time. I remember studying War and Peace in school and exploring all story lines, characters, as well as the historic background. I should acknowledge that today the book is equally touching and exciting.
It is not for nothing that I called the novel an epic one as it is a real epopee. The events of the story embrace the entire period of Napoleonic wars in Eastern Europe, and in particular the French invasion of Russia in 1812. It was a crucial period in Russian history and affected minds of both the common people and local aristocratic circles. Everyone was equal in this story, or at least made the reader realize that the livelihood issues were the same for people of all echelons.
War and Peace challenges the reader with a huge variety of characters and story lines; there are three main heroes whose outlooks continue to alter throughout the volumes. Pyotr Bezukhov, Andrey Bolkonsky and Natalya Rostova cannot leave readers indifferent or emotionless as they continue to interfere with each other and face all possible life hardships, especially when the war arrives at their doorsteps. One may get an impression that this book is a kind of conventional love story with a wartime background, but I’m afraid that would be too simply for Tolstoy’s taste. The idea behind War and Peace is to link great historic events and individual pursue of happiness, calm and harmony.
It is interesting to know that in English the title is translated as War and Peace (Voyna i Mir, in original), but as a Russian-speaker it is merely my duty to reveal one more secret to foreigners: Mir is a homonym that in the Russian language refers to two meanings (translations): peace and the world. If we consider the second version, our perceptions of the novel might change a little. Another perception could be that War and Peace features the treatment of people during the war, their assessment of its consequences, and the way they perceive victories and losses. Finally, in addition to romance, the main characters are all about pursuing new experiences; Natalya gave up on her childish dreams and finally finds desirable peace with herself; Andrey struggles with all the hardships of war and the pain it can bring; Pyotr takes the long path from a naive and simple-hearted blue blood to a decent and intelligent landlord.
I believe that Leo Tolstoy wished to introduce the history from different viewpoints, to show that people and the value of human life might be examined differently. He introduced aristocracy and landowners, dandies and young ladies, soldiers and generals, peasants and money-bags, and even Russian members of a masonic lodge. Hence, Leo Tolstoy embraced all significant historic milestones of the period, a large variety of characters and heroes, who reflected different ways of coping with reality over four volumes of the novel. Obviously, War and Peace is a grand epopee and another master piece from Leo Tolstoy.