War and peace (vol. 1)

I have decided to try out an older book, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

This article is only about the first volume.

At the first glance, War and Peace is a dusty volume, that goes through a lot of unnecessary talk, but I guess their main purpose is to reflect the period in which the author is trying to place us.

The story revolves around two main scenes, one is the Russian aristocracy, represented by various princes and the intrigues for power, while the other scene is of war, on the front against Napoleon in 1805, in Austria.

The author depicts how people in Russian high nobleness fight for power, how women want to seize control and get best advantages in terms of fortune and arranged marriages. The men are only thinking about politics, war, how to go faster on the front line, fight for their country and how to get covered in glory. Most of them have no idea of what war really means, and I assume they will learn it the hard way. One of the most important characters is Prince Andrey Bolkonsky, who goes to the front line as jockey for the famous Russian general, Kutuzov. He is probably brighter than others, but is still eager to risk his life foolishly. Women understand the fear of war, but they can’t convince their men to listen. Prince Andrey leaves his pregnant wife with his father, thus giving up his family, his rank, his fortune, in order to be in the war.

Women try to get a higher position by getting under the skin of several important people. One good scene is the death of old count Bezukhov, where everybody lies about caring for the old man, but instead are all eager to get some of his inheritance, by fighting each other or even by force. Who is more able, more cunning, will get the biggest piece they can chew, even by stepping on dead bodies. The high aristocracy is corrupt and reckless. This only reminds me of the Russian Revolution which put a bloody end to this, yet unknown to Tolstoy but highly predicted by him in his novel.

Another important theme is the love for the leader, mainly depicted on the battlefront, where soldiers are full of courage and willing to die at the mere sight of the tzar. The emotions are very powerful and sometimes leading people to foolish actions.

Napoleon is briefly described, not as a great general, but more likely like a shadow that holds the secrets of the French army. The Russians are totally unprepared for war, and this costs them a painful defeat at Austerlitz. Even if the Austrians have a higher war experience, their arrogance and self trust lead them to blindly fight a more smarter Napoleon. The war scenes are well documented and a general feeling of a small ant on a huge campfield is very well transmitted.

Overall War and Peace first volume is a great introduction to the corrupt society of the early 19th century Russia, while the war depiction looks accurate and full of emotion.

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