I am so excited to review book 11 of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy today. First, because this is the last long book of the novel. And second, because finishing this book makes me feel like I’m almost done with the novel. THIS. IS. HUGE. I feel like the books are running together a bit in my mind. So excuse the shorter response here. I don’t want to repeat myself too much.
Reading War and Peace is something I have talked about doing for years but to actually be almost done is crazy!
Book 11 focuses mostly on the Rostov family as they prepare to leave Moscow in light of the French taking the city. Their days are filled with packing their most important belongings, loading them into carts, and then unloading them so wounded Russian soldiers (including Prince Andrew) can also ride with them. Meanwhile, Pierre is having a bit of a midlife crisis as he leaves his home and decided to do something drastic–namely kill Napoleon or die trying. His wife, Helene, has joined the Catholic church and has decided to remarry, although they are not divorced. We also get added details about the military campaign from both the Russian and French side.
I really enjoyed Tolstoy’s discussion of the pivotal role of the battle of Borodino in the ultimate end of the war. He writes quite eloquently about the ways the generals, battles, and the decision to evacuate Moscow change the course of the war. I found his commentary quite interesting. He talks about the ways that deserting Moscow helped the Russians win the war with Napoleon. That was an interesting way to interpret the events. Having taken several classes as a graduate student about history and memory and truth, I really enjoyed Tolstoy’s words on those subjects.
My favorite character in this book was actually Natasha Rostov. I am impressed by the spiritual and emotional journey she has gone on in this book and in the full novel. A lot of time has past and she had changed quite a bit as well. My favorite scene of this book was the final few chapters where she is reunited with Prince Andrew and asks his forgiveness. I appreciated the way they are able to reconcile and she can find redemption in his eyes.
Pierre was a fascinating character to observe in this book. He experiences the horrors of the battle field, returns to his Freemason beliefs, and ultimately come to several extreme conclusions about right and wrong. I disagree with many of his choices. And I worry about his sanity. But his journey is another fascinating one from the beginning of the novel.
Themes I am enjoying/pondering:
- What is the purpose of war? How do the decisions of generals truly affect the course of war? How does God play a role in the outcomes of wars and in history? So many interesting ideas about these questions in this chapter.
- How can one find redemption and forgiveness? I’m think of Natasha and of Pierre in these ideas.
- How is history written? How can we find truth in history written by imperfect people?
Things that are tricky and/or confusing:
- Keeping all the military ranks and the military characters straight. There are a lot of characters and I don’t always remember their connections.
- I want to learn more about this desertion of Moscow. It’s really a strange idea to leave your homes and belongings to the enemy. But it helps them win the war (so says Tolstoy).
Although this novel is long and complex, I can’t say that it should be shorter. It’s in a class unlike I have read before. I keep saying this, but it really is a masterpiece.
Looking forward to the last several books!