Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Adventure 44/50 : War and Peace

At 2 pounds, 3.2 ounces (more than a kilogram!), War and Peace is *not* light reading.

Last year my friends Simon, Rebecca, and I decided to do a 100-day challenge to read Ulysses, ending on Bloomsday, June 16. I managed to finish with 3 days to spare, but it was a struggle. And I thought that was in.

This year Simon suggested we read War and Peace. I laughed, said it was ridiculous, that I don't even like non-fiction and that I didn't care a jot for those Russian nobles anyway. And then I sighed and agreed.

Several others joined us; there were brunches and dinners. I fell behind, despite dutifully drawing out diagrams of Rostovs and Bolkonskys and Bezukovs. We were supposed to finish, I believe, in September. I think most people did, though we never managed to hold our Hunt Dinner to celebrate. Which is probably fine because I hadn't finished.

Until now. I finally turned the final page. (Well, not the final page, because end notes...) And I feel drained because it was really a slog towards the end.

Not just because I found a lot of it tedious (and those final thoughts on the nature of history and historians made me almost angry ... yet still bored)... but because I DIDN'T LIKE THE CHARACTERS.

Stupid, flighty, selfish Natasha. She's not my kind of heroine. And poor Sonya, who essentially ends up as a servant and gives up her own happiness to serve a family that doesn't care about her. And don't get me started about cruel Countess Rostova. I frankly enjoyed her grief-fueled descent into madness.

Marya -- so homely unless she's crying? -- at least didn't make me angry, though the descriptions of her did. I suppose Nicholas had some honor, as did Andrew -- who I don't blame for not forgiving Natasha when she was so stupid. And then there's Pierre ... who I had a weird affection for, the silly fool.

The war part was a little tough to follow, though in my mind -- especially after the French arrived in Moscow -- I kept thinking of this image I first saw in a seminar by Edward Tufte. It's a visual representation -- a "Carte Figurative" -- by Minard showing the path of the Fresh army. It's golden on the march east to Moscow, and black on the retreat west. The width represents the size of the army, and you can see just how much it shrinks as they head back. It's such a dramatic representation of the fate of the French it's no surprise that this image is known as "the greatest infographic of all time".

(Thanks Minard! And thanks Tufte for introducing me to this!)

Anyway, reading it ... and carrying the damn thing around all summer ... was an adventure. Let me just note that people sorta freak out when they see you're reading War and Peace. Am I glad to have read it? I guess so ... if only because now I know the story and don't ever have to read it again.

I've already decided that next year will see NO BIG BOOKS, apart from Macauley's History of England (finally!). It's all history and Darwin next year, you see.


  1. I admire your determination on this one Sunny! I've read two Tolstoys and he is not my favorite by any means!

    1. I'm just so relieved to have finished! And I never, ever need to read it again!