So how did I do it? How did I manage to read War and Peace this year? Honestly, I have a few answers and a million thoughts about Tolstoy’s greatest work. So let’s begin!
How did I read War and Peace?
I had a few things in my favor. The biggest one was TIME. If I had a full time job or school or another large commitment, I probably would’ve taken longer to read it, if at all. I also used Goodreads to keep track and honestly, keep me motivated. Reading 50 pages in a book that’s over a thousand pages doesn’t seem to be a lot, but the percentage grew on Goodreads, and that was encouraging.
Taking notes was another key thing. It was A LOT of characters to keep track of (Over 600), and if I left off reading for days at a time, it was good to have a refresher. I have many Google Docs with quotes and details and thoughts on War and Peace, and it was cool to compile it as I read. I like to read it with different classical music playlists – it just enhances the experience very much.
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Themes and Tolstoy
I love seeing the theme of fate play out in this novel. There are many moments where there are coincidences with the characters and they ask themselves what role fate plays in their lives.
Tolstoy is incredible with identifying characters with that one thing about them- for Marya it’s her luminous eyes, for Natasha it’s your joy and laughter, for Pierre it’s how big he is.
It can be frustrating to have Tolstoy jump to a new character’s point of view when we have so many dang characters but part of his genius is using the new character’s point of view to tie you to a different way of seeing a main character.
When you’re young, you believe you have so much agency. And then time passes, and you live into a life you never wanted, and you’re amazed at how other forces led up to this life you lead now. Pierre experiences this as a retired chamberlain
There’s this ecclesiastical thread – there’s a sense again and again of death as meaningless, presented by both Prince Vassily and Andrei. Also when a certain minor character dies, I was shocked. Even though I accidentally read a spoiler, I felt like Tolstoy hinted at his death so many times that when he actually died I was so shocked.
I feel like every Russian novel has the Poor Liza character from Nikolay Karamzin’s work. It was interesting to see what role Lise played in this story. She haunted me, for sure.
There’s this theme I’ve noticed in Russian novels when a character does morally wrong, they turn ill. There’s this idea of sickness being moral and I find that fascinating!
Tolstoy’s asking a lot of questions in War and Peace and that’s why I love fiction. It gets the reader to ask questions and consider answers for themselves.
Side note: I would keep writing Tolstory in my notes, and it was funny because when I read Crime and Punishment, I would often refer to it as Pride and Punishment.
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“Love is not an emotion of earth but of heaven.” – Berg to Vera
“If you had faith, you would have appealed to God, to give you the love that you do not feel, and your prayer would have been granted.” – Marya
“No one knows, and one longs to know and dreads crossing that line, and longs to cross it, and one knows sooner or later one will have to cross it and find out what there is on the other side of the line, just as one inevitably find out what is on the other side of death.” – narrator
“To tell the truth is a very difficult thing; and young people are rarely capable of it.”
“There was a radiance of something in her beautiful, luminous eyes. Something like joy, an exalted joy, apart from the sorrows and joys of this world, flooded the bitter grief she felt within her.” – about Marya
“To know Him is a hard matter.” – one of the masons
“It never even occurred to him that he was in love with this little Rostov girl…He only pictured her to himself, and the whole of life rose before him in a new light as he did so.” – about Andrei
“Hush, Natasha. Pray to God. Marriages are made in heaven.” – Countess Rostov, French proverb
“Does it happen to you to feel that nothing will ever happen—nothing; that all that is good is past? And it’s not exactly a bored feeling, but melancholy?” – Natasha
“If I were not myself, but the handsomest, cleverest, best man in the world, and if I were free, I would be on my knees this minute to beg for your hand and your love.” – Pierre
“When the apple is ripe and falls—why does it fall? Is it because it is drawn by gravitation to the earth, because its stalk is withered, because it is dried by the sun, because it grows heavier, because the wind shakes it, or because the boy standing under the tree wants to eat it?” – narrator
“Though she was ashamed at acknowledging to herself that she had fallen in love with a man who would perhaps never care for her, she comforted herself with the reflection that no one would ever know it, and she was not to blame, if she loved in secret for the first time and last time and for her whole life long.” – about Marya
“The strongest of all warriors are time and patience.” – Kutuzov
“When one’s head’s off, one doesn’t weep over one’s hair” – by far one of my favorite lines of dialogue
“We imagine that as soon as we are torn out of our habitual path all is over, but it is only the beginning of something new and good.” – Pierre
“In a dream everything is uncertain, meaningless, and contradictory except the feeling that directs the dream.” – narrator
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War and Peace feels like a long soap opera in book form. You watch characters grow, you watch them make mistakes, it’s an insane adventure. A character I was surprised to love is Marya. She’s a little bit shy, she’s religious, she has an overbearing parent, but her goal for purity and virtue is incredible.
I feel like the novel is a tad too long. But that’s likely due to the way they published novels during this time as periodicals. I feel like there are sections where I hate certain characters and I’m like why am I reading this – can we please go back to characters I love?
Tolstoy loves to make you wait for what you want. I personally loved the peace parts more than the war. After a certain point, I felt he went way overboard with the war. I appreciated his historical theories, but after a while, it was overkill. And that second epilogue was so unnecessary. I personally like to think the novel ended in the dream. Overall, a good read. Incredible characters. But a tad too long.
What book are you looking to tackle?
4 thoughts on “How I read War and Peace”
The most brilliant writers have a keen insight into human character.
This was such an accomplishment! I am in awe of how carefully you read this novel – brava!