War and Peace (AmazonClassics Edition)
Confession: I read this classic novel by Leo Tolstoy for one reason. When I define who I am, one of the words I use is "reader." And I got it in my head that if I am a real reader, then there are certain books I must be able to say I have read, and "War and Peace" is at the top of that list.
The Big Surprise: It's a good book! I mean it. It's really good. OK, I admit I am surprised by that. I didn't expect to actually enjoy reading it (I thought it might be a slog) and to look forward to picking it up again each day—but I did.
This is a book about change on all levels—in families, society, and the nation—and the effect of that change on individual lives, be it for better or worse or caused by destiny or free will. In addition, it's a treatise about the nightmare and ultimate hypocrisy of war, as well as the effect of religion and spirituality on individual happiness. Perhaps best of all, this novel is filled with enchanting stories of love and treachery and of heroes and villains.
Reading "War and Peace" is not like reading other books, even other long classics written in the 1800s. Reading "War and Peace" is more like an event or an experience. And when you finish it, it's an accomplishment. Why? It's long. (Really, really long. As in more than 1,200 pages.) That means it's a major commitment of time and energy.
Also, it's more than a novel. (Even Tolstoy didn't think of it as a novel.) It's a philosophical treatise—a heavy, weighty, thoughtful dissertation on God, self-awareness, free will, love, death, and war. Add to this a convoluted plot and characters so numerous you will need a cheat sheet just to follow along, and you have what can seem to be a daunting challenge just to read it from beginning to end.
Two things are essential: The right translation and the aforementioned character cheat-sheet.
Advice on the translation: I purchased three Kindle versions of "War and Peace," and the third one (the Maude translation published on AmazonClassics) was the charm.
• The first edition I purchased was translated from Russian into English by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky but preserved all the French. In the early 1800s, which is the time period in which the book takes place, the Russian upper classes spoke French, and Tolstoy was true to the times. My edition offered French translations via the footnotes, but I found that cumbersome, and I didn't remember enough of my college-level French to get by on my own. That said, this is an excellent version, which many highly recommend if you can manage the French.
• The second was an excellent translation by Louise Maude and Ayler Maude, which included translations of both the Russian and French.
• The third one published for the Kindle by AmazonClassics was also a Maude translation but included the Kindle X-ray feature, which is extraordinary. Each character's description is quite thorough and truly helps you place the person in the story. This is the one I read, simply because of the X-ray feature.
Advice on a Character Cheat-Sheet: You will need this if you don't have the Kindle X-ray feature—and even if you do have X-ray, you may want it in addition. I found two "War and Peace" character lists on Wikipedia: one is in alphabetical order (nine pages printed) and the other is by order of appearance (seven pages printed). In addition to printing them, I cut and pasted them into Word and then put them on my Kindle using the "send to Kindle" feature. This is the only way I could keep track of all the characters. That said, the character descriptions on the Kindle X-ray and from Wikipedia offer some plot spoilers, but it's worth it. Once you've read about 200 pages of "War and Peace," you will know all the characters so the cheat sheet isn't necessary for long.
Don't be afraid to read this incredible Russian classic. It's been around for so many years for a reason: It's a great book. It's great literature. And it is so worth the time and effort.