I finished it, and as promised, here is my book report on War and Peace. (Book report? What are you, ten? Yes, sometimes, but usually less.) Before I get to that, however…Happy Anniversary to my wonderful husband. I love you. 29 years and I haven’t buried him in the back yard. And they said it wouldn’t last!
First and foremost, as mentioned in last week’s post, it’s a long novel. Like Bible long. It actually has more pages than most Bibles, but less words. Which is a good thing because Tolstoy likes to use big words. I have been told I have an exceptional vocabulary, and I know that’s true because of testing, etc., but I spent a goodly amount of time looking up the meanings of words. Most of the “weird” ones I could guess at the meaning, but I am an exact person, so looking it up became necessary. Thank goodness iBooks has a “look up” and “translate” function, which I do believe I might have worn out.
Tolstoy also likes to write long sentences. To me, a long sentence is one that is more than about four lines long. To him, a short sentence is one that’s less than twelve lines. You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? Okay, how about this? I read a sentence that I deemed to be extraordinarily long, so (naturally) I had to do a word count. It was 173 words, 29 lines, and one full page, if I counted correctly. That stunned me.
Imagine my surprise when about 30 pages later, I ran across another one. Another word count called for! 310 words, 52 lines, and over two pages. Again, assuming I counted correctly, which is iffy because I started developing a brain tumor part way through this exercise. Which will also explain why I stopped counting words in long sentences.
Aside from his use of the longest words in the dictionary, along with the longest sentences in the history of publication (just a guess on my part,) he occasionally did drop little nuggets into his writing. One in particular caught my eye. “If there were no suffering, man would not know his limitations, would not know himself.” He wrote that shortly after he also wrote, “The spoken word is silver but the unspoken is golden.” See? Little nuggets that make you stop counting words in sentences and pay attention to what he’s saying.
Tolstoy spent a lot of time on the war part of the book. Not just the action, but the inaction, consequences of war, man’s role in war, etc. Before I started reading this book, I always thought it would be an account of the war, but I didn’t realize that Tolstoy would also spend an enormous amount of time philosophizing. So much so, that if you cut out all his manifesto-type writing, the novel would be about 2,000 pages long. Or less. Remember, in my iBook at the font setting I use, the novel is 4,297 pages. So, yeah, cut out all that and you’d have about half the book.
Interspersed with all the war talk (which was more philosophy than actual action,) was the stories about the characters. You know, the ones he sucked me in wanting to find out about them and what happened. Even though I had read some “summaries” and knew part of it, I wanted to know how it all came about.
The only reason I wouldn’t give this novel five stars is because I’m not sure exactly how my characters ended up. I know mostly how they did, but I felt no closure, so I don’t really know if they all found peace. For some of them that were an integral part of the novel, I really have no clue. The novel has 15 chapters, or what Tolstoy calls books, and also has a First Epilogue and a Second Epilogue. The First Epilogue has 16 chapters in it and the second 12. Which I also found weird, since most epilogues, like most prologues, are a single chapter.
At the end of the First Epilogue, I was left hanging about the characters. The very last sentence in that epilogue has one of the characters (Nicholas) saying, “Yes, I will do something with which even he would be satisfied…” Hmmm I wonder what he did? We’ll never know. I assumed that in the Second Epilogue I’d find out, but those 12 chapters were a discussion about war, atoms, gravity, divine power, peasants, Frenchmen, Hercules, culture, and a bazillion other things. Not one word about our characters. I must admit that I sorta skim read that Second Epilogue, because I kept hearing the Charlie Brown teacher voice in my head. And dozing off. I kept thinking Tolstoy would mention Nicholas, but nope. He really set himself up for a War and Peace sequel, but never wrote one.
So, what was my final takeaway from the novel, if there even was one? Throughout the book, as I mentioned last week, a large portion of this novel was taken up with someone struggling with their faith or relationship to God and their fellow man. I think the takeaway for me was one sentence that Tolstoy wrote. “To that question, “What for?” a simple answer was now always ready in his soul: Because there is a God, that God without whose will not one hair falls from a man’s head.”
The problem with Tolstoy is he uses such big words, “fancy” wording, and the like, it’s easy to miss what he’s trying to get across. Too bad Tolstoy couldn’t word it a little simpler for simple folks like me, but in the long run, he got his message across. The characters in the novel struggle, finally coming to realize that God’s in control, He has a plan, and that plan includes only what is best for us. Not much is more comforting that that simple thought. And, yes, I think everyone should read War and Peace. It’s well worth the trouble. Just set aside a few weeks, have a dictionary and plenty of coffee handy, and go for it. You’ll be glad you did.