Wednesday, March 24, 2010

ON BOOKS ~ Evacuation Day...

Here in Boston, Evacuation Day is a holiday to celebrate the retreat of the British from Boston in the Revolutionary War. It is a very popular holiday in the city because it happens to fall on St. Patrick's Day - giving the large Irish community a day off to party. But in 1812 Russia, evacuation day was not a happy occassion. During what we in the U.S. would now consider Labor Day weekend, the unprepared, unable or unwilling citizens of Moscow found themselves scurrying to get out of dodge before Napoleon's French army came marching in to town. Here is what happened through the eyes of my core characters...

Helene was nowhere near Moscow - she was happily ensconced in Petersburg playing two new suitors off of one another for her amusement. One, an older gentleman count with lots of cashola. The other, a young stud muffin prince. Nevermind the fact that Helene is married. This is a fun game to her and she makes both men feel shame for not having the guts to marry her. While the Catholic church is busy converting her to their religion in order to get money from her, Helene has a moment of clarity during her boredom and decides to use her newfound faith as a way out of her marriage - since it occurred under a false religion and should no longer be recognized by the true one. Then she gets high society to accept this divorce (which was basically unheard of) and feel sorry for her difficult choice between these two new men in her life. As Tolstoy says, "As for whether it was good or bad to marry while one's husband was living, no one spoke of it, because this question had obviously been decided by people more intelligent than you and I (as they said), and to doubt the correctness of the decision would mean to risk showing one's stupidity and inability to live in society." So Helene sends a letter to Pierre in Moscow letting him know they need to get divorced ASAP so she can get married to this other rich count instead. Ah, love.

While his wife's divorce letter arrives in Moscow, Pierre himself is making his way back from the atrocities of battle that he witnessed up-close and personal. When he gets home he is feeling inferior and pointless in comparison to all the soldiers and their cause. He is once again in deep thought about his purpose and is in desperate need of a cause of his own. When he learns that there will be no formal defense of Moscow by its army, he decides to stay on with the poor and wait for Napoleon to arrive so he can kill him and fulfill his life's destiny - to bring an end to the war, save Russia and bring peace to Europe. Personally, I think Pierre is manic depressive since he is constantly suffering from dark lows and then having deluded moments of delight where he dashes off full of energy and giddiness to fulfill goals so high that he can only crash and burn.

A French officer takes over the home Pierre is occupying and instead of arguing, they swap stories of love all night. Pierre spills his guts to the enemy telling him how he has only ever loved little Natasha - one who he can never have. The next morning, hungover and feeling guilty for buddying up with the French officer, Pierre heads off somewhat reluctantly to murder Napoleon. Reluctant not because he has changed his opinion of the Emperor, but because he knows it just isn't in him to carry it through and he is disappointed in himself yet again. While wandering around he finally realizes that the city is burning and gets a rush resucing a child from a fire and protecting a beautiful woman from the grubby hands of a French soldier. For this he is beaten, arrested and assumed to be an insurgent. He's not having a very good day.

Nikolai has not been heard from since he returned to the army and wrote home about meeting his sister Natasha's former fiancee's sister - Maria. Although a potential marriage match with Maria would make his mom very happy, instead she only sees her sons killed in her dreams, now that Nikolai's little brother has gotten all patriotic and joined the military too. She is successful in keeping her youngest nearby and out of the path of battles. But she cannot protect Nikolai any longer and it breaks her heart.

Because Nikolai's father is so absent-minded, dawdling and kind, the Rostov family is still puttering around Moscow mere days before the French arrive. While everyone else is distracted, Sonya alone sees the urgency of the situation and takes over the ordeal of packing and organizing the household for evacuation. It gives her something to take her mind off of Nikolai's letter mentioning Maria and his mother's subsequent hopes of her son marrying into money after all to pull them out of financial ruin. The rest of the family finally gets their act together when the wounded Russian soldiers come streaming in from battle just days in advance of the approaching French army. These very soldiers also put some priorities in order when Natasha and her father order all of Sonya's packing undone to make room for the wounded on the carts, leaving their material objects largely behind. When Sonya learns that Natasha's ex-fiancee, Prince Andrei, is one of the mortally wounded among their traveling group, she makes sure to tell Natasha, against the Countess' wishes. Perhaps that is her revenge for having to listen to the Countess speak of dreams to marry off Nikolai to someone other than Sonya.

There are only about 300 pages left in this epic tale. And I can't wait to find out how it all ends for our characters as Stacy and I wrap up our reading over the next few weeks. As the photo above shows, this is a 3 bookmark read. One to mark my current page. One to mark the next reading goal. And the final to mark the Notes section, whose numbered references are scattered throughout all the pages, providing historical and cultural clues to enhance my understanding of the times.

300 pages is the average length of most books I read on a regular basis! But I have approached this chunkster like those who love a good series. You like the first book in a series so much you run out and get the next one. And that one has some cliffhanger that makes you run right out and pick up the next. It is the same experience here. The book is made up of four volumes and a short epilogue. About the same as reading through four books in a series - or a really long Stephen King novel! The lesson here is that it isn't the length that makes or breaks a book, but rather the level of interest within the story that makes it a page turner and before you know it - the story is done.

So on that note, hop over to Stacy's to find out all the details this week from the two former lovebirds - back from the dead Prince Andrei and flighty Natasha - to see if she still loves him and if he has forgiven her transgressions.

Related Posts:
  • Volume 2, Parts 3, 4 & 5 - Soap


Unknown said...

Wowza, Molly, you're putting some mileage on the vast tome! It's getting some wear and tear, too, I see. I like reading the synopses in your breezy style. Much better than getting bogged down in heavy literature. Thanks for taking one for the team!

Unknown said...

Tagged you to participate in Hershey's Better Basket:

Official site here:

Heather G. said...

Such great weekly reviews on this historic and classic novel! I don't think I need to read it now from yours and Stacy's reviews!!!

Margot said...

I like this evacuation section of the novel. It seems like there is a little bit more action. I'd never heard of Boston's Evacuation Day. That's very interesting. I'm always in for a new holiday.

Anonymous said...

Helene is something else isn't she? The nerve of the beautiful.
I can see Pierre being diagnosed with a few conditions. I like him, but in a sad sort of way.