Wednesday, March 17, 2010

ON BOOKS ~ War And Peace And Fate...

Our kitty Tedy is really trying to wrap himself around Tolstoy. Not being one to discourage a bookworm, I sacrificed my reading pace this week for Tedy's sake. Which was not the best choice for me since this week Stacy & I read through about double our normal page load. And this was some thought provoking stuff folks. Up until now, we have either been exposed to War OR Peace. Now we are introduced to the clash of those worlds together - War moving in to Peace's territory and Peace trying to ignore War. Deep stuff. But just when I would get frustrated by Tolstoy's obsession with battle maneuvers, he would introduce me to a Russian with a Bostonian accent making me smile and keep reading. I'm not kidding - he described one officer as "pleasantly swallowing his R's and dropping consonants" giving us phonetic spellings of this officer's words such as "militiah" and "robbahs." Cracked me up. Here is what happened through the eyes of my core characters...

The high society queen of Petersburg continues to hold court for the cream of the crop. Her circle of nobility are pro-French and poo-poo this whole empty talk of war, which surely will fizzle out quickly. Her salon of guests always include the brightest minds and biggest names - though many of them also visit the other salons on the opposing side of politics. Helene and her ilk prefer to live with blinders on and carry on as if war is an unfortunate little itch that will go away if it is ignored.

Helene's husband-in-name-only, Pierre, has been falling for that vixen Natasha - first out of pity for her botched affair with his brother-in-law and subsequent collapse of her engagement to his good friend. Recognizing the danger in his feelings, he cuts her off entirely from his life and swallows the secret of his love for her. Doing what Pierre does, he falls victim to a bout of numerology via the Freemasons which gets him convinced that there is some predestined role of importance for him in the business of war that awaits him. Having failed at impressing his nobility buddies with words at a rally for the Russian Emperor, his only effective expression is to contribute money and men to the cause. Still, it is hard for him to believe that Russia could really be in danger - although everyone else in Moscow is reluctantly jumping ship.

And so, Pierre gets bored and decides to get his ass in gear and take a tour of the nearby approaching war. He thinks it's jolly fun seeing all the troops in person and gets quite a kick out of it. He is restless to see the real action and bumbles his way along through the lines of the troops preparing for full on attack from Napoleon's troops in the morning. Fate has him cross paths with his officer friend Prince Andrei, whose ex-fiancee Natasha he is secretly in love with. As always happens when these two fellows get together, Pierre seems to inspire emotion in his unhappy friend and though it is not a jovial meeting, it does get the inspired juices flowing - with Andrei exclaiming to the tourist Pierre that "war isn't courtesy, it's the vilest thing in the world, and we must understand that and not play at war." After oversleeping, he manages to randomly follow officials around, cluelessly admiring the beauty of battle before getting stuck in the middle of a deadly and important site of Napoleon's first defeat on his march to Moscow. Fate - or luck - spares Pierre's soul from death.

Nikolai is pressed back into military service having to leave his true love, Sonya behind for now. Back to leading his regiment, he finds a Mini-Me named Ilyin who he takes under his wing and in comparison to the green soldier, reflects on his own emotional maturity in battle. But even with his wolf hunter's instinct, honed while on leave at home, the humanizing of war won't let him kill an enemy soldier and he questions the medal for bravery awarded to him due to his inspired surge of enemy lines.

While on the march, irony (or "strange fate" as Nikolai muses) places him in the role of knight in shining armor for his sister's (Natasha) ex-fiancee's (Andrei) sister (Maria) who is an old maid no one else cares for. She is trapped in her family's estate with no way of escape due to a peasant uprising while she is grieving her father's death only days prior. Nikolai secures safe passage out for her and thinks she's "pleasant," conceding the successful and morally appealing match a marriage could bring - but is unable to shake that little matter of Sonya.

She is out of the direct picture right now with the exception of existing in the background during Natasha's broken heart and subsequent recovery through religion. Sonya is present in the periphery of Nikolai's thoughts however - when the complicated emotions from his encounter with Maria occur. And he also writes a very romantic letter home to her as his "adored friend of his soul" again stating that he will "abandon everything and come flying to you, to press you forever to my ardent breast" if he comes out on the surviving end of this war. She and Nikolai's family are in the middle of trying to sell their estate in Moscow - as the war approaches their doorstep. I am fearful for what fate has in store for this kind soul.

About mid-way through this section of reading, Tolstoy begins to interject himself personally into the story. It takes on a very non-fiction vein and threatens to turn into a history textbook. The actions are told very directly, with quotes and his own commentary about them. Those sections took longer for me to absorb. But throughout, whether on a non-fiction tangent or allowing his characters to tell the fictionalized yet historically accurate tale, he weaves a common thread of the preordained. "But though by the end of the battle the men felt all the horror of their actions, though they would have been glad to stop, some incomprehensible, mysterious power still went on governing them...and the terrible thing continued to be accomplished, which was accomplished not by the will of men, but by the will of Him who governs people and worlds."

His other big point is that war is won or lost by the foot soldiers at the front - not all the planning and ordering around by those deemed to be in command. That spirit alone can overcome the numbers that should win on paper. Maybe it is all a part of those emotions of fate. After all - all of mine and Stacy's characters' paths keep intersecting. Too often to be coincidental. So I am drawn to keep reading - to find out the fated results. Hop on over to Stacy's where she should have a lot to say about Andrei, his sister Maria, his ex-fiancee Natasha, and the return of another of Natasha's former suitors, Denisov.

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Lynn said...

I am so impressed, Molly, by both your tenacity in marching on through this book and in your very clear explanations of the characters and what's going on. Maybe after reading your posts I can get away with not actually reading the book? What do you think?

Staci said...

You both are doing such a great job with this book that you just may succeed in making this old lady pick up a copy for her own!!!

kaye said...

I'm in agreeance with Lynn. I just love the picture of Tedy curled up with a good book . . .

LJ said...

Has anyone ever tried to re-write War & Peace in a more modern/legible way? Like Pilgrim's Progress .... its been re-written several times (doesn't mean I've read it though).

Diane said...

I have to be honest, I would be doing the same this as the adorable cat trying to read War and Peace. LOL