Book Review: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Friday, July 28, 2017
As this year marks the 100 year anniversary of the Russian revolution, I wanted to read some Russian literature so why not start with one of the longest and most prolific books...Also I visited Russia a few years ago and loved it so I wanted to read a book partially set in Saint Petersburg which was the city I visited.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy - ★★★★☆, 4/5 (1,215 pages)

War and Peace follows a vast range of characters who are all interconnected as they are either friends, family, colleagues or enemies. It takes place during the early 1800's when Russia and Austria are at war with France and Napoleon. Leo Tolstoy does an incredible job of explaining war, troop movements, the chaos of war and it's effects so well and in a way that is surprisingly enjoyable to read.

We follow so many characters as well as the main characters, therefore it can be confusing to read at times, particularly when it comes to all of the soldiers, emperors and generals as there are a ridiculous amount (and it's difficult to keep track of who is in charge of what regiment etc) but thankfully there's a list of the main characters at the beginning of the book listing the names of the main characters (most characters have numerous names) and their relationships. I feel as though some of the military scenes were a little unnecessary, for example, there's a whole section on how a regiment were wearing the wrong uniform...

The book isn't just about battles, war strategy, troop movements and soldiers expectations of war but it's also about the lives and intermingling relationships between the main characters in terms of young love, family ties and friendship. The main characters such as Prince Andrei and Nikolai Rostov who go off to war are quite interesting characters as they are so naive when it comes to war, they think nothing can hurt them and that they'll be heroes but reality hits them hard!

We also follow the more melancholy life of Pierre as his father is ill, we don't know where all of the father's wealth will go after he has pass away and we deal with the high class of Russian society during balls, dinners and social gatherings. So there is quite a mix of the chaos and tumultuous world of battles, death and the screams of wounded soldiers to lavish banquets with princes, counts and countesses and marriage prospects, wealth and the bourgeois problems that go along with that kind of society and wealth.

I haven't read anything quite like it, especially considering I only fully got back into reading last year after barely reading anything since high school! I know War and Peace is one of the most iconic, classic books but before I started it, I had no idea what it was about apart from the implications of the title and I was so suspired at how much I genuinely enjoyed reading the book, especially the war scenes and the lives of the main characters as they evolve as people, as their lives changes for the better or worse and the twists and turns too. We follow the main characters from the naivety and invincibility of youth to experienced, more real versions of themselves (apart from Natasha who remains the same childish character into adulthood), some change so much that they are nothing like what they were at the beginning of the book.

One thing that definitely helped me get through the book was that I wanted to find out what would happen to the main characters and also because the chapter sections were generally quite short and to me it read like a TV series, each chapter felt like an episode of a TV series, albeit a long and epic TV series with lots of Russian names that I did have some trouble pronouncing! It's more engaging than I thought it would be, whether it's a battle with the french, a tension filled social gathering, the death of family members and transition of wealth and position, drunken shenanigans involving a bear, duelling or marriage proposals, there's always something going on.

I managed to read the first third of the book within a week and it was so motivating seeing my progress (if you follow me on GoodReads then you'll have seen my updates) but then the main battles ended and the book seemed to take lots of tangents involving an overbearing and verbally abusive father, the rich families loosing money and a very odd section about the freemasons and illuminati...the first 40% or so of the book was very interesting, entertaining and fairly quick then the middle (from around 45% to 60%) was slower and not quite as engaging but still enjoyable; then from 70% to the end of the book, oh boy, it felt like a completely different book as it was quite tedious, slow and a slog to get through (although it did have some portions that were interesting and enjoyable). The book started to feel like a textbook towards the end (e.g.: historians said this about Napoleon, history will view this battle in such a way) and it wasn't as enjoyable and the ending, it just ended without a satisfying conclusion. I'm sure there are some philosophical points that went over my head throughout the book as well as military terms but overall I enjoy it and I do want to read more from Leo Tolstoy.

Overall 
Yes, this book is huge at over 1,200 pages and it takes a lot of concentration to read it particularly when you have to keep switching from reading the main text then to the french or german translation in the footnotes. Also it takes so much time and motivation, there are so many characters particularly military characters that it can be a little confusing and I felt as though some of the actions of the characters (soldiers saying they love their emperor and crying because he's so wonderful for example), felt very theatrical rather than realistic. Even though the last 30% was a struggle especially compared to the rest of the book, I would recommend War and Peace, not just for the reading bragging rights but because it's a genuinely epic story of such vast proportions and on the whole it was enjoyable and entertaining. However as the physical book is so huge, it wasn't easy to read it as it is just so heavy so maybe try the e-book but the Vintage edition I have is so beautiful.

Have you read War and Peace or any other famous classics? Have you watched the War and Peace TV show? 

17 comments

  1. I love the cover design of your copy! I tried reading Anna Karenina as a teenager and didn't get very far. It put me off Tolstoy although I think now I'm an adult (and have a literature degree) he deserves a second chance. Maybe I'll queue up War and Peace.

    Morgan | Hyacinth Girl

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  2. I still haven't read this I can't believe it! Great review x

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  3. I had to read this at school, we were told to read it over a 2 week holiday, it took me ages and ages and at 14 I wasn't really interested in it, I persevered and read it, only to get back to school and the teacher told us she'd changed her mind and don't worry if you didn't read it because we didn't need to!! I was not happy ha ha, so this book always reminds me of that xxx

    Zoe ♥ MammafulZo

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  4. I remember my Mam reading this when I was young & I used to think she'd never finish it because it was so long! I haven't read it myself xx

    Beautylymin

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  5. I love this book - the design of the cover is so pretty too x

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  6. I've always wanted to read this book but I find just the thought of it so intimidating.

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  7. I have actually but it's not as pretty as yours! I have a shelf full of classic x

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  8. Wow! Good for you! I have never read this!!!!

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  9. Wow I think I would struggle with this, 1200 pages is so many xx

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  10. I would love to read this! I watched the tv series and loved it but I know the book will be 100 times better!
    Chantelle x
    The Girl In The Tartan Scarf

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  11. I've never read it, but I'm not sure I could, I'm so distracted all the time at the moment!

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  12. I've never read this book before but I would find it so challenging getting through so many pages x

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  13. I read this years ago and it was probably the hardest book to read x

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  14. This sounds like such an interesting book.

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  15. I haven't read this before but it is now on my reading list! Loved your review x

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  16. This is so interesting. I know very little about Russia and it's not somewhere I've ever thought of visiting either. I'm tempted but it seems like a huge challenge to get through!

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  17. This is such a classic but I have never read it!

    Cass | CassandraMyee

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