Welp, I finished it. All 1,200ish pages of War and Peace. I'm feeling rather smug about it, too. And yes, this may not be the most honorable of emotions, but so it goes. Reminds me of the five years I was vegetarian, another time I felt vastly superior to most – at least the percentage of the American population who are obese. In fact, I'm considering going back to vegetarianism. Maybe I'll even become vegan!
I am mad with power.
Discussing a book as incredibly vast as Tolstoy's masterpiece is no small feat. We had only an hour and a half for our Classics Book Group discussion, and though that sounds like an incredibly short space of time I think we did a pretty good job getting through some of the major themes. Yes, you could spend a year addressing all the details, but would you really want to? This isn't a Masters class in Russian literature, but rather a group that reads classics for pleasure. That three out of four of us finished seemed reward enough.
Considering not everyone will read the book in their lifetime, and because I am a librarian/defender of all knowledge, I thought a lot of people would appreciate a short summation of the book, just to get an idea what all the fuss is about. The following is from one of the major character's perspectives. There are a mere 508 characters total, but I chose Natasha Rostov because she plays such a major role throughout, and because her character undergoes an extreme change.
Ready? Here we go.
Once upon a time there was a family named Rostov. They had a son named Andrei, who was really cute. Later he would go to war and be a big hero. But the light of this family's life was their daughter, little Natasha, because she was cute and sang prettily.
When she was 13, she figured it would be a cool thing to ask her first cousin, Boris, (who was what, 20 years older?) to marry her one day. Boris thought she was cute, so he said, "We'll talk again in four years, when you're 16, and not complete jail bait."
Meanwhile, Natasha started growing up, becoming more and more womanly. Every year she became prettier, and her voice more beautiful. So, along comes a dude named Denisov, a character with a really weird speech impediment.
He shoots, he doesn't score! Mama Rostov made sure of that. Besides, Natasha wanted someone a lot better – not to mention good looking and rich.
Prince Nikolai Bolkonsky, whose wife Liza – the moustached princess whom Nikolai had treated like garbage – had died in childbirth. While in some ways convenient for him, the look she had on her face when she died ("Why did you do this to me, jackass?!") haunted him. At least until he decided Natasha was prettier, anyway.
And so they were engaged. But the deal was, they had to wait a year to get married, per Nikolai's father's demand.
In the meantime… Anatole! Hot, hot Anatole swept Natasha off her feet, convincing her to run away with him and forget Nikolai, who was a real drag at parties, anyway.
Goodbye, Andrei! Helllloooo, Anatole!
One snag. Anatole was already married. Ah, but she was off in some eastern European country, anyway. What could be the harm?
And more war.
A lot of other people died, even a few major characters. People like Nikolai, who realized on his death bed he'd forgiven Natasha, and would have gone ahead and married her if not for the inconvenience of a mortal wound.
After the war, there was Pierre. Oh, did I forget to mention Pierre? He was rich. Incredibly rich. And married, for a while, to a hottie named Helene, who died. Again, conveniently, since the two of them detested each other. This allowed him to propose to Natasha, who figured he was better than no one, considering everyone else was pretty much dead. Plus, he was rich. Did I mention that? And her own family was flat broke. He'd also been in love with Natasha for ages. She was his frail flower, and he her big, strapping husband.
Pierre married, had a ton of kids, and Natasha's mom moved in with them, too.
Then Natasha porked out, stopped washing her hair and dressing nicely, and never went out into society again.
But Pierre? He'd never been more happy in his life.
So, why did Natasha completely change from the sweet, beautiful debutante to the dumpy matron? Our verdict was Tolstoy's theme is war is hell, that no one is left unaffected by its ravages. Natasha had seen so many people die, notably her little brother Petya, and of course Nikolai. So she became bitter and completely let herself go. Nevertheless, Pierre loved her unconditionally.