<a href=”https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/656.War_and_Peace” style=”float: left; padding-right: 20px”><img border=”0″ alt=”War and Peace” src=”https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1413215930m/656.jpg” /></a><a href=”https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/656.War_and_Peace”>War and Peace</a> by <a href=”https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/128382.Leo_Tolstoy”>Leo Tolstoy</a><br/>
My rating: <a href=”https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/499319185″>5 of 5 stars</a><br /><br />
I read this twice – my favorite novel since I first read it in the 11th grade. Tolstoy’s sequel – Anna Karenina – is nearly as good but War and Peace’s setting amid the Napoleonic Wars and invasion of Russia, for me, makes this epic incomparable. The historical romance aspects of War and Peace are awesome and reveal an intimate insight into the upper class of early 19th Century Russia with one focus being on the Rostov family and, in particular, on the young Natasha who is coming of age when we first meet her and being introduced into Russian high society via the extravagant balls that were the talk of Moscow and St. Petersburg at that time. As a prelude to these social attractions, we learn about the hopes and dreams of not only the young who are looking for suitors but of the older generation who have their own hopes for their children and themselves. But Tolstoy’s masterpiece involves the reader intimately with dozens of other wonderfully-drawn characters. Reading War and Peace is not like reading any other novel – it is, in my opinion, in a class of its own. It’s simply an astonishing work of literature that will reward the reader over a lifetime. I read it in the English translation so I will never know how much quality I missed by not knowing Russian which I tried to learn once at UMass in connection with my brief experience as a chemistry major – I changed after the first semester to English/Journalism. Russian or German was a requirement of the major. Also, I highly recommend to those who love Russian novels to read Tolstoy’s last novel – Resurrection, a much different book and style than Tolstoy’s previous masterpieces, but one of extraordinary psychological depth and social commentary.
In fact, Resurrection reminds me more of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, The Possessed and The Brother’s Karamazov than any of Tolstoy’s previous books due to the more intimate psychological investigation Tolstoy employs. Essentially, a Russian nobleman has a brief affair with a poor maiden and she gets pregnant – unknown to him – and ends up becoming a prostitute to survive the harsh economic and social conditions that she suddenly encounters once he leaves to rejoin his unit in the army. Years later, the nobleman learns of the woman’s dire situation and attends a trial in which she is accused of murder. She is convicted, sent to a Siberian prison and he vows to spend the rest of his life assisting her in any way that he can. In Siberia the nobleman learns firsthand and for the first time really – having been uninterested in earlier life about the plight of Russia’s poor, then more than 90% of the population as there was not much of a middle class, that the serfs and other poor Russians had been victimized and kept down by the upper class. Unlike Tolstoy’s previous major works, Resurrection is a severe critique of the Russian aristocracy with its then focus on all things French (the upper class spoke French primarily at social events) and lack of attention to the development of its own people. That insensitivity in the noble class, however, had radically changed by the time of the publication of Resurrection (1899) as there was a movement to end serfdom with many proponents in the upper class which resulted in Tzar Alexander II issuing a decree ending serfdom in 1861. <br>
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