My rating: 5 of 5 stars
When I was thirteen, my family took a cross-country road trip across the United States.
Anyone who’s ever driven for more than a few hours knows how tedious it can be to drive so far.
Anyone who’s ever done it for more than three weeks straight is probably curling up into the fetal position as I speak.
And anyone who’s made the trip with children is probably having an acid flashback and will be unable to read the rest of my review.
Well, in order to make the journey bearable, my dad bought a big van conversion that had a TV in it (this was before the days of flat screens and even DVD players). We hooked up a VCR to that baby and my parents relished the peace and quiet they’d get when they let us pop in a vid.
But we didn’t have many videos, and they knew it would take more than Mary Poppins and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II (that’s right, II. Back off) to keep us off their backs. So my dad went to Costco and came home with a new video for us kids.
He came home with War and Peace, starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter Fonda.
“What the heck??” was my first reaction. Then, I watched the film.
“What the heck??” was my second reaction.
Why would Pierre marry Helene? Why would Natasha try to leave Andrei for Anatole? And, most of all, how do you explain Pierre and Natasha hookin’ up at the end?? What? I thought she was like a kid sister to him! They hardly interacted in the movie and, suddenly, at the end, they’re together?? WHAT??
Granted, I was only a kid, but I re-watched it in college and still didn’t think it was very good.
After my first experience with War and Peace, I was understandably reticent about diving into the nearly one-thousand-page book that inspired this nearly four-hour-long crapfest. But when I ran out of reading material and spied a copy of the book on my sister’s bookshelf (it’s one of her life’s ambitions to finish it, and there’s still a bookmark stuck in Chapter One somewhere), I decided that I’d give it a shot.
Boy, am I glad I did.
The novel centers around a group of acquaintances who are living in St. Petersburg at the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Their lives are turned upside down, but the war is more a backdrop to the events in their lives than it is the central event of the novel.
Tolstoy’s characters are easy to relate to, even if they are Russian nobility. Andrei is a disaffected prince struggling with guilt over his marriage to a beautiful woman he doesn’t love. Pierre struggles to conform to society’s norms and doesn’t find freedom or happiness until he begins to think for himself. Natásha has girlish ideals and forced to learn the cruel ways of the world she lives in through experience.
In short, they are human>, in the fullest sense of the word. Like us, they are flawed. They experience guilt, joy, anger, joy, sadness – the whole gamut of human experience! And all in the span of under a thousand pages!
War and Peace is considered Tolstoy’s masterpiece, and with good reason. It’s not a book about war. It’s a book about life that just happens to be set during a war that would define a generation of people in a land far, far away from my suburban life in Southern California.
But I’ve lived life, so I get it.