Sunday, May 16, 2010

Book Week 20 - T is for Tolstoy

1828 - 1910

"Faith is the sense of life, that sense by virtue of which man does not destroy himself, but continues to live on. It is the force whereby we live.

Last year, I read my very first Leo Tolstoy's book - War and Peace.  When I started reading the book, I had never read anything by Leo Tolstoy, nor did I have any preconceived ideas about the story. From the very beginning I was captured and couldn't put the book down.  
Front Flap synopsis: "At a lavish party in St. Petersburg in 1805, amid the glittering crystal and chandeliers, the room buzzes with talk of the prospect of war. Soon battle and terror will engulf the country, and the destinies of its people will be changed forever. War and Peace has as its backdrop Napoleon's invasion of Russia and at its heart three of literature's most memorable characters: Pierre Bezukhov, a quixotic young man in search of life's meaning; Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, a cynical intellectual transformed by suffering in war; and the bewitching Natasha Rostov, whose impulsiveness threatens to destroy her happiness. As they seek fulfillment, fall in love, make mistakes, and become scarred by conflict in different ways, these characters and their stories interweave with those of a huge cast, from aristocrats to peasants, from soldiers to Napoleon himself. Battles, love affairs, births, deaths, changing family fortunes, unforgettable scenes of wolf hunts, Russian dancing, starlit troika rides, the great comet of 1812--the entire spectrum of human life is here in all its grandeur and imperfection."
The Anthony Briggs translation stays faithful to the original Russian but takes out all the thee's, thou's and thy's for easier reading. Also included is a list of characters in the back of the book you can refer to, because there are many, many characters and if you don't pay close attention, it is easy to get them confused.

Tolstoy blends history with fiction to create an interesting, educational, classical story about war, love, family, and power. In the latter part of the story Tolstoy mixes in his analysis of the actions of Napoleon, Alexander and the people surrounding them. The Russian Commander in Chief, Kutozov was one particular person whom Tolstoy felt should have been honored over Napoleon.

"For Russian historians (strange and terrible to relate) Napoleon, the least significant instrument of history, who never once in any place, not even in exile, displayed a trace of human virtue, is an object of admiration and enthusiasm; he is one of their 'great men'.

By contrast, Kutozov, the man who from start to finish during his period of command in 1812, from Borodino to Vilna, never once let himself down by word or deed, an unparalleled example of self sacrifice and the ability to see today's events with tomorrow's significance, this Kutuzov is conceived of by the same historians as a rather pathetic, nondescript character, and any mention of him in relation to the year 1812 always causes a stir of embarrassment.

And yet it is difficult to think of any historical figure whose activity shows a greater determination to focus continually on a single aim. It is difficult to imagine a more noble aim, or one more closely attuned to the will of an entire nation. And it would be even more difficult to find an example anywhere in history of a historical personage accomplishing his declared aim more completely than Kutuzov did after total commitment to it in 1812." pg 1208

In the Epilogue, Tolstoy analyzes how historians apply the actions of one person and represent it as the action of an entire people. He discusses the actions of Napoleon, the question of power and whether power is taken by one person or given to that person by a select few or the masses.

"How did these individuals compel whole nations to act in accordance with their will? pg 1317

What is the meaning of power and what happens if no one follows that power. What is the meaning of free will and if people are influenced by the actions of those around them or if it is all meant to be. His examination of the events of 1812 is very interesting and gives you much to think about.

Not only did I fall in love with the characters, I was fascinated by the whole story, how events unfolded and one person's actions affected not just one person, but everyone.

I'm looking forward to reading Anna Karenina at some point this year.  Think I'll wait until my nobel literature class is over so I can give it my full attention.  

Leo Tolstoy's works include: 


Anna Karenina
Father Sergius
Hadji Murad
Master and Man
The Cossacks
The Death of Ivan Ilych
The Forged Coupon
The Kreutzer Sonata
War and Peace


A Confession
The Kingdom of God is Within You


Fruits of Culture
The Power of Darkness

Short Stories:

A Grain As Big As A Hen's Egg
A Lost Opportunity
A Prisoner in the Caucasus
A Spark Neglected Burns the House
After the Dance
Alyosha the Pot
An Old Acquaintance
Esarhaddon, King of Assyria
Evil Allures, But God Endures
God Sees the Truth, But Waits
How Much Land Does a Man Need?
Ivan the Fool
Little Girls Wiser Than Men
My Dream
The Bear Hunt
The Candle
The Coffee-House of Surat
The Empty Drum
The Godson
The Imp and the Crust
The Repentant Sinner
The Young Tsar
There Are No Guilty People
Three Hermits
Three Questions
Too Dear!
Two Old Men
What Men Live By
Where Love Is, God Is
Work, Death, and Sickness


A Letter to A Hindu
On the Significance of Science and Art
On Labour and Luxury
To Women
The Census in Moscow

Several of his works are available to read online at Project Gutenberg and Classic authors.  Pick up and read one of Leo Tolstoy's works this year. You'll be glad you did.


Link to your reviews:  


  1. I should really really really read Tolstoy. It's embarrassing that I haven't. I got halfway through Anna Karenina once, and I enjoyed it, but I put it down and didn't pick it back up. I will read it again.

  2. I can't believe it! This is the week I finally finished reading Anna Karenina and you coincidentally chose Tolstoy for your theme :)

  3. I have kept up with reading easily, but it has been difficult for me to carve out time to write reviews, so I am trying to get caught up by writing several short reviews in one sitting. I'm going to scout out everyone's reviews and decide what to take to the beach!


Thank you for your kind comments.