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Tolstoy’s epic has a huge array of characters and deals with a vast span of human experience and psychology. Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars he focuses in on the lives of Russians both away from the battlefield and in the throes of the action. The host of characters may be numerous but we get to know some more intimately, seeing Natasha, for example, grow from childhood to mature woman with all the heartache and pleasure along the way. Even the more minor characters are relatable, revealing a different facet of human experience.
The writing style is easy to read and there are some quite wonderful descriptive sections – comparing war-torn Moscow to a beehive without its queen is one passage whose imagery certainly stuck with me. Tolstoy seems also to have a talent at writing character, making experiences that can be alien to the reader about more than the mere moment they are in but rather an examination of universal feelings and concerns.
He does have a tendency toward slight tangents – his disdain for Napoleon apparent. He also displays strong feelings on the methods and value of historians. For the most part these are short passages that don’t detract from the readability of the novel. Indeed, these brief treatises on history, philosophy, and war are interesting and thought provoking, adding depth to the overall experience. The epilogue feels a little messy due to the large chunks of these type of ponderings mixed with brief encounters with the characters, allowing us to see how they have developed over the years. I don’t question the value of his ideas, merely that they may have been better placed elsewhere.
One is left with the feeling that they have had an encounter with the whole of humanity on reaching the end of this well respected novel. All of life is contained within its pages, full of the imperfections of the protagonists, the momentous occasions and the everyday. It covers the nature of relationships both familial and marital and touches on debates that have yet to be resolved. Well worth the time commitment to read, no adaptation can ever express all the treasures contained within.
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