Thoughts on: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – Book 1 Part 2

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About:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is a fictional book first published in 1869. The work is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature. The copy I read was translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude.

  • 1350 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; New edition
  • ISBN: 0199232768

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Thoughts:
I liked Book 1 Part 2 of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy much better than part 1. This part starts with the Austrian campaign where Russia and Austria have formed an alliance to wade off Napoleon’s armies.

The campaign is told through the contrasting viewpoints of Andrei and Nikolai. Tolstoy is doing something here which has been done later (probably before but I’m not aware) to great success. Telling the story from the view of the higher-ups (Andrei – adjutant to Commander-in-Chief of the Russian forces) and from the point of view of the men in the trenches (Nkkolain – a cadet). The paths of the two idealistic men parallel along the story.

My favorite character in this section was Dolohov. From some reason I found him likeable and his charades to be funny. Dolohov’s insolence and determination really bring out his character and I can’t wait to see what Tolstoy has in store for him for the rest of the book.

Tolstoy also delves into the politics of war, where a heroic story could be spun to make the main character look like a coward. We see these types of attacks today, where a person of a lower rank is blamed for something just to get the higher ranks off. A disgusting habit which makes me cringe every time I witness it.

A scene in which the Russian army is crossing the bridge at Emms is one of the most superbly written scenes I have ever read. Tolstoy really gets across the chaos and confusion of such large force trying to funnel into a small space.

The more I read Tolstoy, the more I realize what a sense of humor he had. The scene of Andrei’s audience with Austrian Emperor Francis is hilarious. One can certainly tell, as usual, what Tolstoy thinks of the upper class in general.

After I finished reading Book 1 Part 2 or War and Peace I’m surprised Tolstoy didn’t write more about war. The description of the Austrian campaign is absolutely magnificent and the battle descriptions on ground levels are superb. Not only from trench level, but also strategies, logistical troop movement as well as the confusion, suffering, fears and heroism which ones encounters in war. Tolstoy also brings to the forefront of the story the soldiers’ thoughts and feelings. It seemed to me that while Tolstoy did include minor characters there were no minor persons, each one is important to the story no matter the role.

Synopsis:
Book 1 Part 2 of War and Peace mainly follows Andrei who is now adjutant to Kutuzov, Commander of the Russian forces and Nikolai, a cadet. Both man are happy with their new sense of purpose. Meanwhile Dolohov gets in trouble, reduced to a private but acts in bravery when needed.
Soon Nikolai gets a lesson in military politics when he catches a thief, who happened to be a fellow soldier, not realizing the significance of his accusation and the danger to the regiment’s cohesiveness, especially before they are about to see action. Astonished that he is expected to apologize, Nikolai refuses knowing that he is right.

The attack starts badly when Mack, an Austrian General, loses his army. Andrei is livid because it seems to him that he is the only one who recognizes the seriousness of the situation. Commander-in-Chief Kutuzov has no option but to retreat and hope to meet up with fresh Russian troops.

Crossing the bridge at Emms Nikolai finally sees some action as his regiment is protecting the bridge while the crossing takes place. Nikolai experiences a firefight and is becoming self conscious taking every order as a personal affront. Thinking himself a coward, Nikolai is surprised no-one noticed.

The Russians achieve a modest victory over the French but Austrian General Scmidt is killed. Andrei is ordered to bring the news of Schmidt’s death to the Austrian emperor. Andrei receives a cold reception, but it is partially due to the fact that Napoleon has taken Vienna.
Andrei’s audience with Austrian Emperor Francis goes well, but surprises Andrei. It seems the emperor has no interest, or knowledge, in soldiering or tactics but pretends to by asking irrelevant questions. After answering the questions patiently, Andrei’s reception is more enthusiastic and he is decorated.

At Schon Graben the France have overpowered the Russians and cut off line communication. Andrei meets Captain Tushin on the front lines and gets his first lesson at wartime politics. Tushin who at first is looked upon as a ridiculous figure does not get the order to withdraw and fights heroically. Later Tushin is brought up on charges that he has lost his guns. Andrei, disgusted by the display, speaks up on behalf of Tushin who is actually a hero.

Nikolai gets involved in a cavalry charge and gets hurt. Coming out of his daze (or regaining consciousness) Nikolai thinks his dead but he is actually badly wounded. Seeing French soldiers Nicolai, on instinct, runs away from them even though he doesn’t understand why anyone would want to hurt him.

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More books by Leo Tolstoy

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