Sunday, December 18, 2005


now reading: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

"And why the devil are we going to fight Bonaparte?" asked Shinshin...
The colonel...took offense at Shinshin's remark.
"It is for the reason, my dear sir...that he cannot view with indifference the danger threatening Russia...the safety of the Empire, its dignity, and the sanctity of its alliances...and the desire, which constitutes the Sovereign's sole and irrevocable aim: to establish peace in Europe on a firm foundation, has now brought him to the decision to dispatch part of the army across the frontier, thereby implementing new endeavors toward the achievement of this purpose." ...
"Do you know the old saying: 'Yeroma, Yeroma, you'd better stay home, the fences you mend should be your own'?" inquired Shinshin, furrowing his brow and smiling. "That fits us perfectly. Why, even Suvorov was beaten all hollow, and where will we find a Suvorov today? I ask you--" he said, continually shifting from Russian to French.
"We must fight to the last drop of blood," said the colonel, pounding on the table, "and die for our Emperor, then all will be well. And reason as little as possible..." -----pp.96-97

So many of the men are marching off to war, leaving their ladies and girlfriends and pregnant princesses behind. Some disagree, but the manifesto has been written and they set forth. In this book, as in real life, a lot of aimless young men turn to war as a vocation, not knowing quite what else to do.

I read an interesting comment about that shortly after September 11th. Young men, let's say ages 17-25, are often at the peak of their restlessness, and lest it turn into recklessness or worse, many societies require something of the young men right around that age. For example, mandatory military service. Or, I thought, for another example, Mormons send the boys off to serve missions for two years when they turn 19. It's almost as if you get them through that roughest spot and they might just turn into fine human beings. Otherwise, the temptation to turn to things like gangs or suicide bombing looms large. I found that commentary fascinating, and the dinner debate quoted above reminded me of it.

As for the comparisons of that quote to our current war, they go without saying.

Napoleon and Russia are both convinced the peace of Europe is at stake and they alone must save it, except not really "alone," because there are the hundreds of thousands of soldiers sent to make war to attain this peace.

Meanwhile, Natasha's got her eye on Pierre as he ambles into the Count's fortune, much to the dismay of most of this little circle of upper crust. Will he steal her heart away from Boris? She's a charming little character. So is Marya, who I think is in love with Julie and that's why she's so lackadaisical about marriage. I was once considering writing a thesis (well, for starters, getting a master's in English, obviously, which I still might do, who knows? anyway, the thesis--->) on lesbian relationships in 19th-century literature and how they relate to notions of revolution and freedom. This might just be some more material. We shall see.

I didn't have much time to read this week at all either, but this book really goes quickly. If I ever sit down to read more than 10 minutes at a time, and maybe every day instead of once or twice a week, I might not have to take the whole winter to read it!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Slow Start...

now reading: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

OK, so I still haven't exactly reached page 100. I've had a lot going on. Last week was quite crazed and this week looks like more of the same, including a pre-school field trip and other madness at work.

What that means for you, dear reader, is that if you get your hands on a copy of The Book any time in the next few days and start in on it, you'll probably be ahead of me!

My general reflections so far are:

1. (from the duh! files) Tolstoy was a great writer.

2. I wish I could remember what I felt when I started reading Anna Karenina. My approach to that book was so entirely not spontaneous, or even particularly self-propelled. I had lived it vicariously through my sister when she read it two years before me (and told me the ending). When it came around to my turn in AP English (teachers in cabinets notwithstanding) I was pretty blase about the whole thing. And, I did in fact read the whole thing; that, I do remember: finishing it in the waning days of Christmas break, sprawled horizontally across my waterbed, my feet poking off one side and my chest and elbows on the other edge, so amazed with myself that I was completing my read of such a gargantuan book.

I also remember that I did like it on the whole, but I hated the part about the wheat. It went on and on about what's-his-name-that-started-with-an-L's farming collective, and in my mind that extends for at minimum a hundred pages, although when my boss read AK (along with Oprah) last summer he came through that part completely unscathed saying, "Linda, it was only, like, 30 pages." Grrr.

But enough about Anna K! I'm on to a different Anna! And some Pyotrs, and lots of princes and counts and countesses and princesses and Boris and Natasha and young men off to the Guards and Napoleon stamping around the world stage.

If you're not up to reading War and Peace with us, you could go for Nelson DeMille's The Charm School instead. That was in fact one of the many cosmic signs in spring of 2004 that pointed me toward W & P. I love Nelson DeMille anyway, and I read about one book a year of his. The Charm School is from the late 80s and concerns Soviet-U.S. spying and whatnot (a thriller) and in it they go to the War and Peace battlefield. Or, maybe there are many battlefields but this was the big one. Or something. Maybe when I finish W&P I can go back and reread TCS and know what I'm talking about.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Let us begin...

Welcome, stalwart literary souls!

The edition of Tolstoy's tome I have is the big fat mass market Signet Classic.
ISBN: 0-451-52326-1

I chose this edition for many reasons, most of which I can't remember now. That was more than a year ago, after all. I do recall that I sat for quite a while comparing the first lines of each text (very important), skimming the introductions and reading the "notes on texts," and of paramount importance seeing what they did with the French used in the book and with Tolstoy's revisions when he himself corrected proofs for the second edition. My exhaustive research led me to buy this one. Bonus points that it was translated by a woman.

I am on page 86. But don't be alarmed! It starts on page 29. So I've read less than 60 pages this week. I think Sunday will be my main War and Peace day. I did not read the entire introduction because I don't want the ending spoiled. PLEASE KEEP THAT IN MIND when you comment about the book to me!

I am excited about reading it. Finally! Here's a quote I liked this week:

"'Now, this war is against Napoleon. If it were a war for freedom I could understand it, and I should be the first to go into the army...'
Prince Andrei merely shrugged his shoulders at Pierre's childish statement. He looked as though he found it impossible to reply to such foolishness; and, indeed, it would have been difficult to make any other response than the one Prince Andrei made to this naive remark.
'If everyone fought only for his own convictions, there would be no wars,' he said."
--pp. 52-53