Thursday, February 25, 2010

ON BOOKS ~ I'm A Lover, Not A Fighter...

Last week, I hung out at spiffy soirees throughout Russia's great metropolises and got to know some movers, shakers and wannabes. This week, I followed some of those same people into the world of war. Each of them were exposed - vividly. There was not a lot of bravery, certainty or heroism. Those moments came in small gestures off the battlefield. But Tolstoy managed to describe my very own cowardly emotions when it comes to physical conflict. FEAR. SHOCK. CONFUSION. DOUBT. All of this led to my human instinct of retreat. Running away from the "war" chapters, seeking solace in those contrastingly "peaceful" ones back home. Much like a soldier tries to escape his hell through the letters from loved ones about mundane life. But the life back home was not exactly mundane. Inheritances were rewarded, and toyed with. And a certain Prince married off one child to wealth, while failing to do so with another...

This woman is either a complete idiot or a genius. I still have not heard her voice through the pages. Until Helene speaks up I can only assume she is the Jessica Simpson of 1800's Russia. Her physical beauty is overwhelming to rich suitors in her path. Namely, Pierre. My suppositions about her father, Prince Vassily, were correct. In the wake of a lost inheritance to Pierre, her father has pimped his gorgeous daughter out to his rich rival. Vassily turns my stomach. It is one thing to find a good match for family interests. It is another to strong arm a proposal to a child you see only as a meal ticket. She and Pierre are now married after a month-long engagement and Daddy has to be laughing all the way to the bank.

Unsuspecting Pierre has just become one of the richest young men in Russia. When his Dad died, he was named the sole heir, leaving all legitimate heirs in the dust and scrambling to save face. Pierre's illegitimate status is no longer a problem. He reminds me very much of Steve Martin's character in "The Jerk" when he comes into gobs of money out of nowhere and gets taken advantage of by every charity on the face of the earth, along with lots of people trying to become cool by hanging out with him. "The Jerk" couldn't say no to anyone and ended up homeless and without his beloved wife. Pierre is decorating a home he doesn't even live in because that's what he's supposed to do. And as much as he felt this young hussy, Helene, is bad mojo, he let Prince Vassily (who is only after Pierre's inheritance) force him into marrying his daughter (the hussy). According to "The Jerk" storyline, Pierre had better watch out. He may some day find himself wandering around aimlessly broken, clutching to items of only sentimental value while his beautiful wife moves on to other things.

Good God. My dreamboat is a big fat wussy boy. It was obvious last week that Nikolai was a sweetheart, romanticizing the world of war before seeing any action. But seriously. This boy got hysterical over a minor encounter with the enemy. He needs to learn how to follow instructions first of all. He gets so wrapped up in his imagination that he tunes out his superiors and finds himself lost and clueless in the midst of danger. This guy, and I'm quoting Tolstoy and Nikolai's own thoughts here, "could not simply tell them that they all set out at a trot, he fell off his horse, dislocated his arm, and ran into the woods as fast as he could to escape a Frenchman." He could not simply tell his buddies this version because that is what happened and it doesn't sound very manly. And, I might add to the true version of events, he threw his gun at the imposing Frenchman - not shot him with it. I hang my head in shame for Nikolai's honor. He was so promising before he arrived in battle, when he called a superior out on stealing money from a friend. He tried to find some boldness during one of the biggest battles in the war against Napolean. But all he ended up doing was riding around away from the lines, pursuing the Russian Emperor - who causes in Nikolai the same reaction that The Beatles did with all school girls in the '60's. There isn't anything Nikolai wouldn't do for his Emperor - until he actually has a shot at connecting with him mano a mano - and then he slinks away, just like he did in battle. Dearheart is no Braveheart.

Poor Sonya of course has no idea that her beloved Nikolai is a coward. Or that he hasn't thought much of her while away at war. He sends one measly letter home to his folks, giving a brief shout out to Sonya. She of course is stirred to emotional action - feeling brazen enough to think about writing him directly. In the meantime she professes her love for him to his sister, Natasha, but doesn't stop to realize Nikolai isn't expressing his love for her too strongly. In fact, he's shocked that the enemy would think to actually kill him - he who is so loved by everyone, especially his Mama. Sonya hasn't popped into his thoughts much at all.

Much of this portion was spent reading about scenes with soldiers and their leaders developing and executing battle strategy. Although this is not something that naturally peaks my interest, it is fascinating having Tolstoy bare the true souls and emotions of these military folk to us. There is much commentary and thought on the why's and how's of combat. There are real generals and other historical war diplomats on display here. While I was blow drying the back pages of my book (don't ask - an unfortunate result from a water bottle in a gym bag) I discovered that there is an alphabetical listing of all the real people Tolstoy fictionalizes in this book. Flipping back to read about them is like having that pop-up guide during replays of Lost episodes. It is a very entertaining way to learn about real historical figures, battles and effects on the future we now have.

Hop over to Stacy's where I am sure she has a lot to say about Pierre's buddy Prince Andrei - one of my favorite characters thus far. He is always searching for the greener grass on the other side of the mountain - trying to balance his selfish thoughts of glory with the rewarding path of selfless love for others. He's gone and pissed off young Nikolai with his superior rank so I'm sure we'll clash on those two sometime in the future. Andrei's sister Maria had me cheering for her decision about a marriage proposal - though her reasons and reactions were different than mine. Nikolai's rapture towards his military leader mirrors very much Maria's love of God and her faith. Nikolai's little sister Natasha didn't get much attention this week, much like Sonya. But Stacy was introduced to the incredibly entertaining Denisov. Head on over for that meet and greet. And stay tuned for next week, where we both hope we get out of the battle scenes and back to high society!

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caite said...

you know, this is a book that I totally am unsure whether I have read or not. I have this vague idea about it...but maybe that was the movie. Was it a movie? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Helene is Jessica Simpson! Your wrap up is great as usual. I'm thinking my Andrei and your Nikolai could come to blows.

Kaye said...

Wow, this is great! I had planned to read this in Feb but I don't know where the time has gone and now probably won't get to it until April or later. You've done a great character analysis here. I loved it! Off to see what Stacy has to say.

Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

I love the way you feature the characters like this. They seem like real people and you are actually in the story.

Jersey Girl said...

I admire you for tackling this book. Are you really enjoying it or are you struggling to get through it?

PS Are you ready for some BASEBALL?????

kaye said...

too bad about nikolai--

I agree with Margot, I like your character analysis.

the war chapters sound interesting--Tolstoy bare the true souls and emotions of these military folk to us--

I hope the book wasn't too damaged

SeƱor Steve said...

You are doing an absolutely wonderful job so far, Molly! I have been looking forward to this for a month now. Please don't let up. I am following along religiously. . .well, devotedly anyway.