Characterization and Tolstoy


War and Peace

I am reading War and Peace. Thank you, thank you very much. I will receive your applause and gifts of adoration. Or a pat on the back will do just fine.

Okay. I will try not to become a book snob 😉

I really had little interest in this book until recently. I kind of always heard it was boring and ridiculously long. I guess I always thought it would feel a little too much like homework. But I fell in love with the classics, which led me to Moby Dick (another book with a tedious reputation). Not only did I love it, but its length became one of its best attributes. Sometimes you read a book that is so engaging that you whizz right through it and cry at the end because it was too short. There was little “whizzing” involved with this book. I had to slow down from the beginning and accept the fact that I was on a journey. And when I finally got to the end there were no tears because it ended too fast, there was only deep contentment and gratitude (and a little nostalgia because the journey had ended).

I guess War and Peace was an obvious next step 😉 I picked up a copy at a used book store months ago, but have been waiting for the right time to dive in. Well, I took the plunge a few weeks ago and have been enjoying it.

Tolstoy is teaching me a lot. He has this unique gift of characterization. He can describe an individual in a few sentences and I know exactly what he’s talking about. He will often focus on one specific trait or behavior (the little princess with the curved upper lip or the captain with his eyes half closed). Not only does it help the characters stand out from each other (and there are a lot of characters), but they immediately feel real. And then after you’ve seen the characters in one context (like a social gathering), he shows them in another (at home with their family) and your perspective of them changes.

It is challenging me in a very good way.

And although the book started out “slow,” focusing on the social circles of influential people in Petersburg and Moscow leading up to the war (I really didn’t mind)…his battle scenes are completely riveting.

Anyone else reading Tolstoy? Don’t give me any spoilers, I’m only on pg 220. But what do you think?

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