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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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Hannah Pittard
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Robertson Davies
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War and Peace

War and Peace - Larissa Volokhonsky, Richard Pevear, Leo Tolstoy

It took Tolstoy five years to write this bad boy. It took me four and a half years to read it. Though massive, size alone is not the reason it took me so long finish one novel. Life sort of got in the way. I started the novel in 2009, knowing it would take some months to complete, but then I started an MFA program and, well, there just wasn't room in my life for War and Peace. I could've jumped right back in once I graduated two years ago, but there were always excuses: it's summer, you can't read Tolstoy in the summer; but I'm right in the middle of such-and-such; I can't read that tome now, it'll hurt my reading challenge for the year. What a whiner I can be. Anyway, I decided this year I was going to bear down, read some of those massive works I've been eager to read, among them War and Peace.


I love Tolstoy. I have for some time. My love for Tolstoy is in part a love for the writer and his work, but it probably has just as much to do with Tolstoy the person. I feel Tolstoy and I are in many ways like-spirits: his paradoxical personality, his so-called radical morality, his asceticism. I can identify. Hell, if there's one person I know who's likely to have a fit in the middle of night in the middle of winter and wander off and die, it's me. And when I'm 81 years old, I want to have a beard just like that.


So my appreciation for Tolstoy's written work is probably greater than it would be if I didn't consider the man a direct line to the divine. Even so, I love Tolstoy the writer. Yes, sometimes he got lost in his thoughts, taken away by some philosophical rant that in hindsight doesn't seem that insightful. But that's because his thoughts have been ingrained on us in 2013. Radical non-violence is commonplace as we occupy streets from New York City to Pittsburg, Kansas, but to Gandhi and the leaders of the civil rights movement in the US in the 60s, Tolstoy's writings, particularly The Kingdom of God Is Within You, were momentous. So Tolstoy rambled quite a bit, and War and Peace was certainly no exception. Throughout the novel his views of historians were expressed. He ends the novel with a very long rant, presenting his theories of history and historians. It's a horrible ending, grinding down the novel's greatest moments into a blunt and worn thin point. But it's Tolstoy, so first of all, it's expected, and secondly, his epic tale makes up for it.


Tolstoy put together such a wonderful cast of characters, weaved them throughout a story that was interesting and beautiful. And I fell for it. All the guys go ga-ga over Natasha, and I'm like WHY? She's shallow, immature, and not even very pretty, but—oh wow, Natasha, I think I'm falling in love with you. There's the impulsive Pierre, whose awkwardness eventually grew on me. And Andrei, he does some jerky things, but through his epiphanies I was eventually able to empathize with him. Then there were the four hundred or so other characters, many of whom I loved. I guess spending nearly five years of my life (granted, off and on) with these characters attached me to them.


So Tolstoy rambled and he got wordy and he occasionally showed his own shallow ignorance (that which he had at a tender Tolstoy age of forty), but War and Peace is still one hell of a novel. It's not for everyone, and those not particularly interested probably shouldn't read it; stick with something shorter by Tolstoy (which would be any of this other offerings). I'm glad I got it out of the way first because I'm fairly confident much of Tolstoy's later writing will appeal to me more. In fact, I'm eager to get started. It may have taken five years to read this puppy, but I'm hopeful that I will have knocked out several of Tolstoy's other works by 2018. And if not, I'm sure I'll have many great excuses why I didn't.