Tag Archives: Read Along

War and Peace Check-In #11

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Can you imagine? I am writing this post early as it is the third of November and I already finished this month’s section. What can I say? I think the fact that we are getting close to the end finally hit me and I just wanted to read until the finish.

But before I share my thoughts about this section, let me please remind you that you are all very welcome to join our War & Peace Carnival at the end of December, to celebrate having finished reading War & Peace this year, somewhere in the past, or just wanting to join us in celebrating. You can find more information here. Also, you can find the Mr Linky for this month over at Amy’s blog.

I grinned when I found Tolstoy mentioned Russian historians in this month’s sections, after wondering why he seemed to single out French ones in the reading for October.

I still want to argue with parts of Tolstoy’s philosophy of history, and yet, for the first time I found myself actually liking one of the paragraphs he wrote on the topic:

‘This whole strange, now incomprehensible contradiction between facts and historical descriptions comes only from the fact that the historians who wrote about this event wrote the history of the beautiful feelings and words of various generals, and not the history of the events themselves.

They find very interesting the words of Miloradovich, the decorations received by this or that general, and their own speculations; and the question of those fifty thousand men left in hospitals and graves does not even interest them, because it is not subject to their study.” (p. 1074)

For me, as a historian, this is a true and important reminder, particularly in light of some movements within the discipline who again seem to be calling for a study of only those “great” and “relevant” figures in historical processes. Alas, I still don’t think I can agree exactly with what Tolstoy provides as a solution (as if histories of the masses were simple and easy truths, as if this would not lead to its own kind of mythmaking – maybe?). I keep having all these questions I wish to pose to him, however much I like his critique and anger in places. As such, I find myself agreeing with his critique quite often, but less so with his counterclaims.

I also found it surprising to see Tolstoy turn more decidedly in favour of religion in this part again – or at least, with religiously inspired principles. I think we have seen that he disagrees with fanatic religion (as per how he seems to define it): Marya’s overly pious pondering in a large part of the book, Pierre’s adventure with free masons. But now, he’s calling, in another critique of historians, for a Christian judgement of right and wrong when talking about greatness, which I found really interesting (and his critique of historians there was very funny too).

C’est grand!” say the historians, and then there is no longer any good or bad, but there is  “grand” and “not grand.” Grand is good, not grand is bad. Grand, to their minds, is the property of some sort of special animals known as heroes. And Napoleon, in his warm fur coat, clearing off for home from his perishing men, who are not only comrades, but (in his opinion)  people he has brought there, feels que c’est grand, and his soul is at peace.

(…)

And it never enters anyone’s head that the recognition of a greatness not measurable by the measure of good and bad is only a recognition of one’s own insignificance and immeasurable littleness.

For us, with the measures of good and bad given us by Christ, nothing is immeasurable. And there is no greatess where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth.” (p. 1070-1071)

Turning to the stories of the people, I was so sad that Petya died. And then to see the family fall apart over that (even if Natasha’s mother got on my nerves a little).

As for the couples, I am quite glad that it seems Natasha and Pierre and Marya and Nikolai will end up together. And yet, the distinction drawn between intelligent women and real women? Ugh.

Despite all my frustrations and questions posed to this month’s section, though, I quite enjoyed reading it.

Now we just have the epilogues left!

War and Peace Check-In #10

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It is the first of November and according to our schedule, we have passed a thousand pages!

I have very little to add to Amy’s clever observations for this month. Be sure to check out her post! She also has the Mr Linky, in case you are still reading with us.

I’ll basically be reiterating her thoughts in my own words below:

I was sad that Prince Andrei died. I would have loved for him and Natasha to have a happy ending. However, I knew it was coming since I was stupid enough to check out the characters on wikipedia in.. February, I think? And I quickly learned that he would die. And yet, given his previous almost-death experience, I was still hoping that wikipedia had gotten it wrong. Anyway, I did really appreciate Tolstoy’s description of how Natasha and Andrei reconciled, and I found the last days of Andrei really interesting – his detachment versus the feelings and needs of the people near him.

As for the other couple. As much as I want Marya and Rostov to be happy together, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Sonya too. I find it really interesting that two of the women I feel most sympathy for, Marya and Sonya, end up having to share a love interest (Not to say I don’t feel sympathy for Natasha – but I feel Sonya and Marya are more similar). It also makes me a little sad. I love for characters I like to end up happy. But I can see how Tolstoy did not exactly have that, or my feelings, in mind when he wrote this book.

As for Tolstoy’s prime message about history, can I just state that I have grown quite tired of it? On the one hand, I do appreciate his ideas and I can see how his vision would’ve been quite different from those of historians of his time.. But, as Amy said, I feel it jars with the story somehow. For all his statements, I wish it could have been embedded within the story a little better. Now it just feels a little out-of-place.

What I did think funny is how he seems most bitter about the French historians, who glorify Napoleon, and then continues to talk in the ‘we’ form, as in ‘we Russians’ in some pages. I wonder how Tolstoy’s vision compares to other Russian historians of his time? Are they in the same business of glorifying powerful individuals, which he seems to reject (and I suspect they would’ve been)? If so, it is quite interesting that he singles out the French historians in particular here, even if for a few pages – in the context of a book about a French-Russian war. Hehee.

I have to admit, I am quite keen to finally finish this book. I have started on part III of Volume Four already. I’m quite curious how Tolstoy will tie up all the families’ lives (which admittedly is what interests me most). I know that the Epilogues are generally held to be quite slow and repetitive reading, so I’m not looking forward to December’s installment, but November? Yes, I am curious.

I wonder how I’ll feel about this book when I’m finally done reading. I think it is save to say that, for now, it hasn’t been the best reading experience yet – although it certainly has not been the worst either. I wonder if I’ll be more appreciative once I’m done?

War and Peace: Check-In #2

February is over, which means it is time for another check in for Amy and my War and Peace Read Along.

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Amy shared her thoughts earlier this week. And you can find the Mr. Linky to link to your own thoughts over there as well.

How are all of you doing? Are you still reading along? Are you still enjoying it, or has your enjoyment of this second part been less?

I admit I skimmed through most of the posts for this month, because I am not quite done with part II. I have 40 pages left. I am having a lot of trouble concentrating on this second part. Well, it’s not that I’m fighting against the will to put the book down. I am still interested, but I do not find it as captivating as the first part we read. I think there are three reasons:

The first is that I read the first part in one go, somewhere at the halfway point of January. By the time I was halfway through, the story had sucked me in and I really wanted to keep on reading. It was with difficulty that I put the book down by the end of part I. But then, I failed to pick it up again until a few days ago. All of the urgency I felt in the middle of January was gone. Worse, I had forgotten who most of these characters were and how they were related to one another. I am not sure if I have that all figured out still. Jason was good enough to point out that the who-is-who does not always matter so much, so I am trying not to worry about it. I tried googling some of the characters, but unfortunately found out some major spoilers, so I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone.

The second reason has to do with the battle scenes that are a heavy theme in this part of the book. I rather enjoyed witnessing the decisive chaos of the battle field, for all too often you imagine war as a planned endeavour. However, battle scenes in themselves are not all that interesting to me. In movies, I usually turn my brain off until I get to the end to find out who died/was wounded. Reading War and Peace, I am confronted with the fact that I cannot apply the same tactic to this book, even though part of me wants to. I think Tolstoy meant to show us that war is about more than the casualty loss at the end, or the winners and the losers, which means that as a reader you have to witness part of this war. I don’t know, perhaps I am reading into things. Perhaps I am trying to rationalise my reactions to this second part.

The third reason was something that Amy signalled in her post, which is the fact that the parts in which war happens are very male-centred, and we lose touch with all of the female characters. It is not that I cannot feel empathy for male characters, not at all. But I do think that I implicitly, almost without thinking, feel uncomfortable about stories that are set so definitely within an often imagined as male environment, with only male characters. Something inside me just.. I don’t know.Something withdraws from these scenes, almost to keep me from engaging too much. I wonder if it’s because over the decades, so many stories about wars and battlefields are told from  a male-centred perspective, with masculine ideals, that I do not subscribe to, that I am afraid to encounter the same here? Or perhaps it is just a matter of personal taste? I clearly have not figured this out yet..

For March we are reading Book 1, Part III. For those of you reading the ebook: Part III has 19 chapters.

Do you have a particular strategy to tackle these parts? I think I might just go for the read-in-one-go again, but this time finish part II and part III at the same time. Sometimes I feel this schedule is too slow to enable thorough engagement with the book, and at others time is moving too fast to actually keep with the schedule. So perhaps I should just take them as guidelines that will keep me reading when I most feel like giving up?

War and Peace: Check-In #1


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We have a button! Made by the lovely Renay, I am very excited that I now get to have this in my sidebar for the upcoming year. Edit: And there’s another button available too, made by Jason Gignac. Oooh, now I have to choose which one to use!

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Amy has had a post up for a few days discussing her experience with reading the first part. She also has a Mr. Linky where you can leave links to your first check in if you happen to have written one.

So, onto the book..

I wonder who else was daunted by all the French in the first few chapters? I remember opening my book and looking at the first page, and most of my excitement to start reading left me. I am starting to get used to it now, and the footnotes at the bottom of the page work alright (although I do find it annoying at times that my edition (Pevear & Volokhonsky) only gives the translation, which means that I have to switch back and forth between the footnote and the text to see the English sentences being spoken in between). I wonder if Tolstoy was trying to scare us? No, I know he was trying to portray the upper class as it functioned at the time, with its use of French (and according to my introduction, sometimes faulty French at that). But he did almost scare me away. It is good that I had this read along to push me into reading.

I admit I was surprised by how easily readable the story proved to be once I got past the first 20 pages or so. I finished the part we set ourselves for January within a day, and I frankly had a difficult time stopping. I am sticking to the schedule, but I might want to figure out a way in which I do not delve into the story for a day before leaving it aside for another month, because it might take away from my general involvement (and understanding) of the story.

I have to admit that I find I have very little to say about this part. The thing is, we are just getting to know these families, and I feel I know too little of them yet to have an opinion. However, I do think it was interesting to see how the lives we follow intertwine (I’m sure there’s more of that to follow), and seeing politics enter the scene through discussions. I think the scene that stood out to me most during this part was the way different family members handled Pierre inheriting everything from his father, it really cast a light on domestic politics, and made me reconsider my dislike/like of some people (strange how you try to pin people in place so soon).

How are you getting along with War and Peace thus far? Are you enjoying it, or are you finding that you have to force yourself through it?

Amy posted some questions in her post that I think might be interesting to look at for further discussion:

  1. Why are you reading War & Peace?
  2. What translation are you reading? Are you reading print, ebook, or audio?
  3. So far, is it different than you expected or the same?
  4. Do you have a favorite character? (lol just asking–I feel like I barely know these people)
  5. Do you have any other predictions or expectations for the rest of the book?
  6. What was your favorite part of the first section?
  7. What do you see as the biggest obstacle to finishing?

In February we plan to read Book I, Part 2 (for those reading on an ereader: part 2 has 21 chapters). I hope you will join us :)

*Sorry about posting late, work got a little crazy for a few weeks.

A Year-Long Read Along of War & Peace

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I am not exactly sure how this happened, but one day the wonderful Amy mentioned that she would love to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace in 2013 and I said that I would happily join her. Today, we are announcing it to the world and making it official: 2013 is the year in which we will read War and Peace. We plan to read an installment of around hundred pages each month, which means that by the end of the year we will have tackled this major book that I admit intimidates me a little bit.

This is the schedule Amy and I came up with (but in case you hate it, it is all my fault as I tried to design it without actually owning the book yet). It is open to renegotiation or change if we encounter problems throughout the year, but right now it looks manageable:

Book I
part 1 by 31 Jan
part 2 by 28 Feb
part 3 by 31 Mar

Book II
part 1 by 31 March
part 2 by 30 Apr
part 3 & 4 by 31 May
part 5 by 30 Jun

Book III
part 1 by 31 Jul
part 2 by 31 Aug
part 3 by 30 Sep

Book IV
part 1 & 2 by 31 Oct
part 3 & 4 by 30 Nov

Epilogue
part 1 & 2 by 31 Dec

So why am I posting this besides the fact that by going public I feel like I am truly committing myself? Well, there are two reasons:

Firstly, we would love for you to join us! The more the merrier, and most of all, by having a group of readers we could offer each other support, discuss the book, and get to know each other better. Those all sound like good reasons to join, right? (or at least I hope they are!)

Second, Amy and I are both hesitant about the choice in translation and we would love to have your input! I know that a few years ago a new translation appeared by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, but I remember that it wasn’t received well by some of the bloggers I followed at that time. Have any of you read it, and is there a translation you would recommend?

* I stole the image Amy used in her announcement post earlier today.