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

April 14, 2012

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

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

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This section starts with an excellent narrative about joy. When reading this I felt as if I were part of the party welcoming Nikolai back home. This part was very intense on an emotional level especially the middle part where a father is told that his son is dead. I cannot even imagine anything remote to this happening and Tolstoy manage to squeeze every ounce of sympathy he could manage.

I don’t know why, but I hate to see or read about men crying. Whenever my wife watches reality shows (her “chill” hour) I turn away in disgust. In this book there is a heart wrenching scene of the old Prince mourning his son Andrei which I could barley get passed. The unimaginable had happened and Tolstoy catches the agonizing feelings in a remarkable way.

The return of Andrei, for me, was the highlight of this book and might actually be the highlight of all of War and Peace to be honest. While the circumstances are tragic the emotional levels go from one extreme to the other as if Tolstoy is playing with the reader.

Nikolai brings Denisov with him when he comes back home. The family is extremely happy. Natasha tells Nikolai that Sonya has released him from his vow (which he made as a child), but Nikolai deems it dishonorable to forget about it. Natasha keeps her distance and Nikolai, on his part, does nothing to close that gap.

The government’s propaganda machine works wonders. The Russian people believe that the defeat at Austerlitz was to be blamed on the Austrians. The Tsar did not trust the right people, but the Russian soldiers fought heroically.

Prince Bagration is regarded as a hero, and Count Rostov is in charge of the dinner in his honor. Rostov is not only a good manger, but can be counted on (no pun intended) to supply money when needed. The events at the dinner are exciting, we read about Pierre’s miserable marriage – not only that but he has received a letter that his wife, Hélène, is having an affair with Dolohov. Unfortunately, Dolohov sits opposite Pierre. Nikolai plays the honorable soldier who looks down on people (i.e. Pierre) who didn’t answer their country’s call to the flag. Pierre, being immersed in thoughts, doesn’t acknowledge Nikolai which doesn’t help.

Dolohov keeps taunting Pierre through out the dinner, Nikolai who is not on Pierre’s side joins in especially when Pierre does not participate in a toast to the Tzar. Pierre loses control and challenges Dolohov to a dual while Nikolai and Deniso agree to act as seconds.

Pierre knows the dual is a mistake, he never held a gun before and doesn’t even know how to carry it. However, purely by chance, he wounds Dolohov. Not knowing what to do he presents himself to Dolohov’s shot. However, Dolohov is too injured to aim and misses. Pierre walks away from the madness. Nikolai takes Dolohov home and finds out that the arrogant bully is devoted to his elderly mother and hunchbacked sister.

Pierre has no idea where to go or what to do. He believes rumors about his wife having an affair with her brother, Anatole, might be true because she allowed him to kiss her bare shoulders. What more, Hélène openly shows contempt for Pierre, not the way a wife should act in such a society.

Hélène starts badgering Pierre about the dual and about besmirching her reputation with it. Hélène also tells Pierre that Dolonov is twice the man that he is. That does it and Pierre goes nuts, he lifts a large marble slap about his head and smashes it on the ground, he shouts for her to go. Hélène is scared as she never imagined her husband acts this way nor has she ever witnessed the look on his face.

Hélène leaves.
The marriage is over.

The next three chapters are set in Bald Hills where the Old Prince is trying to resume his normal life knowing that his son has died. Not being able to tell his daughter the bad news, the Old Prince tries to keep to his routine but it does him no good. Facing reality, the Old Prince realizes that Andrei is dead and he cannot keep on hoping.

Maria, on her part, wants to grieve with her father but he won’t let her since he does not know how to handle such momentous emotional pain. However, the Old Prince does ask Maria to tell Lise of the death of her husband – but Marian cannot bring herself to do so.

Father and daughter decide not to tell Lise anything due to her condition.
The Old Prince starts to weaken.

Lise is afraid of her father-in-law which does not help her during her pregnancy. When she goes into labor Lise is an emotional mass and on top of that, the Muscovite doctor is late. A coach comes up to the house and Andrei runs into his wife’s room, but Lise is in so much agony she barley registers that he’s there.

Andrei gets kicked out of the delivery room by the midwife, as the doctor arrives he hears a scream which he cannot believe comes from his wife – and then he hears a baby crying. As Andrei rushes into the delivery room he sees his dead wife. When Andrei looks at the dead Lise’s face he cannot think about anything but about the way he has treated her, how she gave all for him and he has done nothing for her.

The Old Prince hugs Andrei without letting him go and cries like a child.

At the funeral, both the Old Prince Bolkonsky and Andrei seem to think Lise is asking them “why have you done this to me?” from beyond the grave. While Andrei is distraught at the question, the Old Prince is simply angry.

The emotional temperature of the novel drops a few degrees in this section where Tolstoy takes us back to the Rostovs. Nikolai is promoted instead of being demoted largely because his duel has been kept quite.

It is now 1806 and Dolohov decides to pursue Sonya. Even though she is a good match, she refuses. Meanwhile Denisov is enamored by Natasha Rostova and surprises everyone by dancing at a ball. However, later one when Natasha tells her mother who, in turn, scolds Denisov for pursuing someone who is clearly not yet an adult.

While Dolohov plans revenge on Nikolai, the man himself does not know how to break the bad news to his father. At home he is charmed by family life and joins them in song. When his father gets home Nikolai tells him what happened, but makes it seem as if it wasn’t as big a deal as it actually is. Nikolai’s father does not get angry but Nikolai feeling ashamed breaks down in tears.

Great price on this book in paper or elec­tronic for­mat
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More books by Leo Tolstoy

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  • JonathanApril 14, 2012 at 8:50 am

    Kudos to you on reading this tome–also, a great idea to break the review into several installments. Can’t wait to hear what’s in store next!

    Jonathan @ I Read a Book Once

    • Zohar - Man of la BookApril 15, 2012 at 8:35 am

      Thanks Jonathan, I got the idea because the book is so dense, and so much happens in each book. Also…give me more blog content, LOL.

      I was thinking of doing the same thing with Anna Karenina ( but ended up doing just one post.

  • Carol WongApril 14, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    I read this long ago on a school vacation and will always be amazed about the complexity and richness of this book.

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