This year I’m taking part in a year-long group read of War and Peace, hosted by Amy and Iris. I had fallen behind with the reading in March (which is why I didn’t post an update for that month) but I managed to catch up again in April.
After struggling with February’s very war-dominated section I’m now enjoying the book again and I’m pleased that there does seem to be more balance between the war scenes and domestic scenes than I had feared at first! I also made things easier for myself this month by doing what I should probably have done from the beginning and printing off a character list to keep beside me while I read – although as I get further into the book I’m finding the number of characters less overwhelming and easier to keep track of anyway.
Book 1 Part 3
This was the section I really should have read in March. In the first half of this section we return to Russian society and rejoin some of the female characters we haven’t seen since Part 1, including Princess Helene, who marries Pierre, and poor Princess Marya, who turns down the chance of happiness for the sake of her father. In the second half we are with the army again, before and during the Battle of Austerlitz. Although I still don’t think the ‘war’ scenes of War and Peace are ever going to be my favourites, I found these easier to follow and understand than the battle scenes in Part 2 (see my comments from February). They still feel a bit chaotic and confusing, but that’s probably the point!
The most memorable parts of this section for me were Nikolai Rostov getting his first glimpse of Tsar Alexander, and Andrei Bolkonsky meeting his hero, Napoleon. The scene with Napoleon shows how we can build people up in our minds to be something they’re not, which can lead to disillusionment when we finally meet them and discover they are ordinary human beings like ourselves. In Rostov’s case the fact that he idolises the Tsar so much means that when he finally gets the chance to speak to him he is too awestruck to approach him and ends up regretting a missed opportunity.
Book 2 Parts 1 & 2
And this was April’s reading. There was a lot happening this month, including a birth, a death and a duel! With Nikolai Rostov coming home on leave, we are also reacquainted with the members of the Rostov household, including Natasha and Sonya.
From these two sections, I thought some of the scenes that stood out the most were the ones where Pierre, after leaving his wife, meets a mysterious stranger at the station and makes the decision to become a Freemason. There are a few chapters devoted to this part of the story and they had a slightly surreal, otherworldly feel in comparison to what we’ve read so far. I also thought Pierre’s discussions with Andrei were interesting, with Pierre explaining how much happier he has been since he stopped being selfish and started considering other people, and Andrei arguing that his actions could actually be making things worse rather than better.
Towards the end of this month’s reading we return to the ‘war’ when Rostov rejoins the army and feels the same joy on being welcomed back to his regiment that he felt on being welcomed home by his family. But this time, rather than facing chapter after chapter of military tactics and strategies (the reason I wasn’t enjoying the book in February) we are shown more of the human side of war, as the men begin to suffer from starvation and illness. Rostov experiences more of the disillusionment I mentioned earlier when he visits the wounded Denisov in a military hospital and is shocked by the way the patients are being treated.
I really enjoyed April’s two sections and found them surprisingly quick to get through. And we’re now 33% into the book, which is very encouraging!