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

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Sunday, February 7, 2010

Yes, Napoleon's overrated. Let's move the story along!

Leo, Lev, Count - I'm + 1,000 pages into War and Peace and I have say, I get it! Napoleon was overrated, an egotist, a military klutz, a pompous megalomaniac. General Kutuzov was an underrated, underappreciated, military strategist, leader of men, patriot, good soldier, and good soul. Please, no more chapters flogging this dead horse, so to speak. Kutuzov essentially chases Napoleon and his army out of Russia, to the extent possible refusing every opportunity, pushed upon him by his careerist and ambitious subordinates, to engage in battle. Tolstoy depicts one attack, the Russians (and their horses) so weary they can barely move, the French eagerly surrendering to the stronger forces. These chapters are among the weakest in War and Peace. I had expected a quite stunning and horrifying depiction of the retreat in winter (it's actually mostly in November, cold in Russia no doubt but not the dead of winter). But these chapters are not terribly engaging, as fiction, because the main characters are off the stage. We're watching vast forces at work without perceiving the workings through characters we know and have come to know - contrast with the battled at Borodino, which we see through the eyes of Pierre and Andrei, or the much early Austerlitz, which we see through Nikolai Rostov and Andrei. Characters drive the engine of the plot. That's true in any novel except the most unconventional. I think most readers at this point, 4th section of volume 4, are eager for the action to return to Moscow, where the main (surviving) characters are soon to converge.

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