5 reasons for reading War and Peace

War and Peace, the masterpiece of Russian writer Lev Tolstoy, is considered one of the most impressive and important novels of universal literature. It appears on one of the top places in any novels’ list. In view of this immense reputation and the opportunity to find not only reviews, but also relevant studies on various aspects of the book, on the internet and beyond, we have found another way to encourage reading this book by presenting some interesting information about its genesis, about the author and the themes dealt with. And given that this work is a collection of up to 1,800 pages in some editions, this information could convince someone to accept the challenge of entering the world drew by Lev Tolstoy.

  1. It's hard to categorize it. During the lecture, you can realize that besides the interest in the characters in the spotlight, Tolstoy also deals with philosophical themes. Although he studied a lot of historical sources about the Napoleonic Age and the Invasion of 1812, he has repeatedly tried to draw attention to the impossibility of depicting an event 100%. The epilogue of the book treats this reality broadly, giving place to an own interpretation of history, historiography, and its role in the creation of civilization. Because of these essays, many contemporaries could not place War and Peace in the category of novels. Even Tolstoy admits in an introduction that "it’s not a novel, less a poem, and lesser a historical chronicle. War and peace is what the author wanted and was able to express in the form in which it’s expressed."
  2. It will be a challenge for the reader. With over 559 characters, 200 of which are historical characters, and at some point, you will surely come to wonder who is this character and where did it come from. The main characters go through a lot of transformations, some very brutal, the book covering more than eight years. Their experiences will shape them and when you get attach to a character, you’ll accompany him through all the stages of his struggle with himself and his inner world.
  3. It can be a good start to learn French. Most of the dialogues in the book are written in French, the language adopted by the Russian aristocracy at that time, under the influence of ideas from the West. So Tolstoy tries to be as close as possible to the era, allowing the characters to express themselves in the cult language of those days. Most of the Romanian translations include this artifice, placing a translation into Romanian in the footnotes. However, the first version of the novel, published in 1866, is limited to Russian using Tolstoy's translation, reducing the size of the book by a few dozen pages.
  4. It provides a window in the history and mentality of the Russian people. Tolstoy deals in the book with the events sparked by Napoleon's personality, though on several occasions the author offers a good lesson of psychology and philosophy of life of the Russian people. How does this relate to the central figure, how do they relate to religion, nation, the role that Moscow plays as a central, political and spiritual center, how do they understand their existence are just some aspects that Tolstoy brings in front of the reader in his own style.
  5. It had an influence over other arts and other authors. Like any great work of art, it has had many adaptations in the visual media. The first cinematic version dates back to 1915, being followed by two large-scale films, an American, one produced in 1956 with Audrey Hepburn and Henry Fonda in the main roles and a Russian one made in 1967, remarkable for the massive scale at which it was filmed, receiving an Oscar for this achievement. Two mini-TV series which captured the secondary elements were also produced. The first one, from, 1972, with Anthony Hopkins in Pierre’s role and the other one directed on BBC One in 2016. In addition to the films, the novel was adapted for theater, opera and radio. Following Tolstoy's example, other authors attempted to write large-scale works canvasing the background of the era. We have the examples of Mihail Sokolov, The Silent Don, Doctor Zhivago of Boris Pasternak or Life and Fate, the book by Vasili Grossman.

Finally, we can only admit the greatness of the Tolstoy project, and if we accept the challenge of reading this book, let us get caught and surprised by the atmosphere of that long lost era. War and Peace is not a book to be placed artificially in the rankings, only on the basis of literary criticisms. Due to its vastness, due to the characters facing the same dilemmas and conflicts, it can give us the chance to discover new literary friends who will accompany us from now on. And whom we might meet again while reading it for second or even third time.


Article written by Iuliu Sturza