War and Peace Readalong: February

warandpeace2013 This is my second monthly update on the readalong of War and Peace I’m participating in this year (hosted by Amy and Iris). Unlike last month, when I reported on how much I was enjoying the book and finding it difficult to put down, this month I had a very different experience.

Our goal for February was to read Book 1, Part 2. This is a very male-dominated section of the book, with none of the female characters we met in the first part (no Natasha or Sonya or Princesses Hélène or Liza). Instead we get to learn more about some of the men in the story including Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, Nikolai Rostov, Dolokhov and General Kutuzov. I found it a bit easier to keep track of the characters this month but what I struggled with instead was the fact that Part 2 is spent entirely with the Russian army, on the battlefield and in the barracks. I think my complete lack of knowledge of this period of history and Russia’s involvement in the Napoleonic Wars was a problem here, as well as the fact that I often find battle scenes and military tactics difficult to follow. Some background reading before I started this section would probably have been a good idea!

One thing that did make an impression on me was the sheer confusion and chaos of war and also the conflicts, arguments and fighting that went on in the ranks of the Russian army before they even faced the enemy. For example, there’s an episode where Nikolai’s commanding officer, Denisov, has some money stolen by a fellow soldier.

My favourite part of this month’s reading came towards the end of the section, when we rejoin Nikolai Rostov who has been wounded in battle. He can’t believe that anybody would actually want to kill him, a person everybody likes. Of course, none of that matters when you’re at war; you are simply another enemy soldier and no longer an individual.

“Who are they? Why are they running? Can it be they’re running to me? Can it be? And why? To kill me? Me, whom everybody loves so?” He remembered his mother’s love for him, his family’s, his friends’, and the enemy’s intention to kill him seemed impossible.

It’s through the thoughts of characters like Rostov that Tolstoy succeeds in showing us the harsh reality of war, in contrast to the romantic ideas the characters may have had about it at first. Prince Andrei is another character who had notions of success and heroism but after he visits the Austrian government to report on a Russian victory and discovers that it is not appreciated by the Austrians he also becomes disillusioned with war.

Finally, this is just a minor point but was anyone else irritated by the way Denisov’s speech impediment was handled? I don’t know how it is represented in other translations but in the one I’m reading (Pevear & Volokhonsky) I thought the way the guttural r’s were written was very distracting and annoying.

“They don’t even give us time to dghrink!” replied Vaska Denisov. “They dghrag the ghregiment here and there all day…”

So, this month was less enjoyable for me than last month but I will keep reading, though I’m now a bit concerned that there’s going to be too much ‘war’ in War and Peace for me. The end of Part 2 couldn’t come quickly enough, but I look forward to seeing what Part 3 will bring.

For other participants’ thoughts, see the War and Peace February Check-In.

12 thoughts on “War and Peace Readalong: February

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I remember that moment with Nikolai Rostov — one of my favorite moments in the book too. The translation I read definitely didn’t have Denisov saying “dghrink”; that’s so awkward-looking. Couldn’t the translator just have written it “drrink” or something?

    • Helen says:

      That’s the only thing I’ve really disliked about this translation so far. I’ve been quite happy with it overall, but Denisov’s speech really grated on me!

  2. Lisa says:

    I’ve never tried to read War & Peace, though I was interested to learn that Tolstoy was inspired by Vanity Fair. It’s definitely on my “someday” list (though I’ve failed three times with Anna Karenina).

    • Helen says:

      I enjoyed Anna Karenina though I did have a few problems with it (I struggled with all the long passages on agriculture and I really disliked the character of Anna herself). I didn’t know Tolstoy was inspired by Vanity Fair!

  3. Kerry M says:

    I actually enjoyed this part a lot more than I would have expected to, had I known how war-centric it would be. While I know nothing of battle strategy (particular of the Napoleonic era!), I thought Tolstoy’s writing made it about more than just the battle… more the horrors of war, the chaos that surrounds it, etc. Looking forward to the next section; perhaps we can expect more peace!

  4. Bookworm1858 says:

    I hated Denisov’s speech-it looked ridiculous and I couldn’t imagine how it was supposed to be pronounced. Like Elizabeth says, “drrink” would have looked more natural.

    I, like you, had trouble with this section (this was also partly because I frantically read most of it last night, trying to get back on track) because of the war stuff. I was so confused about what was going on. I can see Part 3 rejoins the ladies and I’m hoping to enjoy it more.

    • Helen says:

      Denisov’s speech looked so ridiculous I couldn’t concentrate on what he was actually saying. I feel more confident about Part 3 and am looking forward to meeting some of the female characters again!

  5. Amy @ My Friend Amy says:

    Yeah I do agree about the speech impediment that was awful!

    I know what you mean about wishing you’d done some background reading but even with that I actually found it more readable than a lot of people did this month I think!

  6. Heather says:

    I agree with so much of what you’ve said here! The war stuff bored me, but the moment of clarify that Rostov has about the reality of war and the fact that someone could actually want to kill him spoke to me. It was the first time while reading the book that I thought I could actually enjoy this thing!

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