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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

War and Peace stands alone

Finished first 4 volumes of "War and Peace," and just starting the epilogue - but lest you think I'm almost done, what other book would have a two-part epilogue plus an afterword, totaling +100 pages? Worth taking stock for a moment and trying to come to terms in a few lines with this tremendous novel. Is there any other book like it? I guess the American counterpart would be Gone with the Wind, which from my memory is very entertaining but superficial, portentous, and politically suspect, to say the least. It does have some of the same ambitions and scope. I never read The Naked and the Dead. Is it similar in some ways? "War and Peace" is a novel of the grandest ambition and boldest design, yet entirely conventional in structure, tone, and style. It is not groundbreaking in the way of other monumental novels (Ulysses, Magic Mountain, Man without Qualities, Remembrance, Moby-Dick) or iconic novels (Red & Black, Madame Bovary). Rather, it's the ground itself. It uses the most traditional means of storytelling and character development, of setting and background, to depict the lives of a generation (and a class) during a time of tremendous international upheaval. Unlike other great novels, it does not have that slight feeling of strangeness about it, and it does not have a distinct Tolstoyan style that marks the writing page by page, line by line. But there is a Tolstoyan method, you might say - his tendentious, polemical chapters and his battling for the lost causes of Russian history; his capacity to enter into the minds of his characters as they grapple with great spiritual and cosmological issues; his extraordinary ability to dramatize a scene through closely observed and sparely rendered detail. His style is in that sense timeless and pan-national. But nobody could write (much less publish) a Tolstoyan novel today, in Russia or elsewhere. "War and Peace" is a monumental novel, and like all monuments it stands alone.

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