Sunday, January 29, 2006

Why we love Tolstoy

now reading: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

"The Bible legend tells us that the absence of toil -- idleness -- was a condition of the first man's state of bliss before the Fall. This love of idleness has remained the same in fallen man, but the curse still lies heavy on the human race, not only because we have to earn our bread in the sweat of our brow, but because our moral nature is such that we are unable to be idle and at peace. A secret voice tells us that we ought to feel guilty when we are idle. If man could find a state in which though idle he could feel that he was of some use and was fulfilling his duty, he would have discovered one of the elements of primeval bliss. And such a state of obligatory and irreproachable idleness is enjoyed by a whole class -- the military. It is just this obligatory and irreproachable idleness that has always constituted the chief attraction of military service." --p. 590

I am steadily progressing, now in Part Four of Book II. Slow and steady wins the race. I have lately realized that reading War and Peace really is a major life goal to be checked off my list. I mean, I have used that as the definitive thing-I-need-to-get-around-to-doing for so long that I wonder what will possibly replace it.

So, Natasha and Andrei. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I think Mr. T is trying to drop some hints that the relationship is destined for tragedy. At any rate, they are so ridiculously in love that as I sit in IKEA Cafe -- it's just a cafe, minus the IKEA furniture store -- across the street from work sipping my cappuccino and reading my daily dose of W & P, I get all warm and fuzzy and squishy-like feeling just thinking about it.

Pierre and his Freemasonry are a little wacky. Pierre is just lost. I'm not sure what to make of him. I do, however, think Mr. T is sassy about religion and a little subversive, but in a matter-of-fact way so people don't see him as confrontational and antagonistic. I adopt that approach sometimes, but not as well as him, methinks.

Rostov's gambling nightmare was painful, truly painful, to read. I know what it's like to have such nightmarish debts that some kind soul such as your parent graciously -- too graciously --bails you out of. You can only hope to make yourself worthy in the future. I also know what it's like to watch someone have that psychological power over you. It reminded me of Yvonne or something. Ahhh, my crazy past.

So Michael has posed some tantalizing and hard questions. I wish he would also post some *answers* to this blog--hint, hint. Well, now, how does one come to be called revolutionary? Even people who fight, or who are radical, aren't always revolutionary. Revolution implies turning the known world on its head, eh.

I think this requires some further discussion and thought. I shall get back to it. First, to think about Tolstoy v Dostoevsky for a minute. I think they're both great. I also think that Tolstoy has somehow cemented his place as "the most important," but I'm not sure exactly why that is. The sheer length of his tomes? I myself am a huge fan of Dostoevsky: Crime and Punishment and Notes from Underground ... phenomenal stuff.

This requires contemplation. Contemplate, I shall, but my time is short tonight. I'll try to post some revolutionary Russian author thoughts in (I hope) the next day or two.

Monday, January 16, 2006

"Quelle terrible chose que la guerre!"

now reading: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

It makes a person think:

In War and Peace, the troops are battling. Characters we know are getting wounded, and Napoleon has ridden into the scene. Those who sit at home are in agony, awaiting news of their loved one, their beloved Nikolushka or whatever other soldier.

Sometimes it is a strange thing to sit halfway around the world from all that you know.

Today I read:

"Instead of the new life which he had hoped to lead, he was still living the old one, only in different surroundings." --p. 459

I have found it interesting that Napoleon's dramatic entrance into the scene presents him in a pretty good light, and that (spoiler alert!) (if it can count as a spoiler only 1/4 of the way through the book!) the first character we really know and care about who dies doesn't even die in battle.

Or is life the battle, and that's the point?

I'm also aware that I am possibly the only person reading the book -- even the initial slew of people who said they were interested have almost all bailed -- but I like to think a lot of you are reading this blog anyway, just for the hell of it.

I hope to be able to post something more insightful soon. It's been a rough couple of weeks. But I have started reading around 30 pages a day. I now take W & P with me to the coffee shop across from work every day on my afternoon break. It's a wonderful ritual.

I must also confess that I took another pause from reading it over the weekend because the universe delivered Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods into my hands and it in turn delivered to me some cosmic signs and the synchronicity of it all is unbelievable.

Come on, y'all. A little Tolstoy never hurt anybody... *smile*

Sunday, January 08, 2006


now reading: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I told you I would spend the entire winter reading this book. Now, I did have my unfortunate illness in December as well as taking my Christmas pause to read Dickens, but still. I'm pathetic. I'm on page two hundred something.

Sometimes people on the subway look at me reading it but unlike in the English-speaking world where I would secretly expect them be impressed (ha) I wonder if they know what it is or just wonder what the big book is. Then again, people stare at us "wei-guk" (foreigners) all the time even if we're not holding a 2,000 page novel in one hand and clinging to the hanging-hold-on-to-me-thingy with the other.

I'm reading about Prince Andrei running around with Prince Bagration's or whatever his name is troops after Napoleon was like, truce? Are you kidding?

I think Tolstoy was super sarcastic and would have been a fun guy to hang out with.

I love sarcasm. There is a distinct lack of it here in the R.O.K.

That's all right. Now that I've bought my new (to me, but really used) computer I plan to hibernate in my room the rest of my time in Korea anyway. <---slight exaggeration

Except if I was supposed to eat a lot to pack on some excess body fat before going into hibernation then I seriously failed in that regard.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

"If I were Tsar, I would never wage war..."

now reading: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Come on, admit it: you want to make a New Year's resolution to read War and Peace! It will make you feel so accomplished!

I've been reading over the past few days the battle on the Danube, back and forth across the bridge, with Rostov trying to find his courage under fire and various commanders and officials doing various commander- and official-like things.

Mike asks if Koreans talk/discuss/care about Bush and U.S. foreign policy. I'm not sure about the caring, but there is occasional talk. The thing is, I'm not really in a situation where I get to talk much about such things at all. Most of my discussions about the man Dubya are with other foreigners: my co-workers at school (mostly Canadian) and my new American friends, one of whom is in the military, and so forth. I had a great discussion once, with the American's Korean friend's work club guys, over raw fish in Pusan, about U.S.-Korean policy and even "the North." That was largely my American friend and me doing the talking, with participation from two out of the three Koreans present.

At school, in my class of Level Ten 11-year olds, one of the oral test questions was "What do you think of George W. Bush?" Every single one answered, "I think he is bad." Why? "Because he has killed many Iraqi people." (Well, I should say, those who could get the tense right said that. I was more likely to get, "He kill Iraq people." I'm not overly fond of my Level Ten class, by the way. They don't like to put forth a lot of effort.) Then again, a few questions later on the test came, "What do you think of the United States?" The usual responses were, "I think it is very good." Why? "Because it is very beautiful" or "because it is big and rich." But one boy, one of the trio of little punks who make me miserable, said, "I think it is bad." Why? "Because there are a lot of gays." I was shocked and awed.

My impression overall is that the Iraq war left a bad taste in the mouth here as it did most places, but none of my co-workers really say much, nor do they respond to my sardonic comments about my so-called leader. There were definitely protests against Bush and seriously beefed up security outside the embassy in Seoul when Dubya blew through Asia and came here to the APEC summit the other month.

Here are my further impressions: the U.S. military is here in large numbers, most Korean adults desire peaceful reunification with "the North," the propaganda machine driven by the U.S. is in full force about what a threat North Korea is, and the generation of current adolescents is liable to forget North Korea even exists as they are completely distracted by their cell phones and computer gaming. In my level 13 class of 10- to 13-year-olds, one of the oral test questions was, "Should South Korea and North Korea be one country? Why or why not?" They mostly said no. "Because their leader is a very bad dictator." Not a lot of complex analysis of the situation. I heard that a lot of younger people (mostly who weren't born during the war, I'd wager) don't want to reunite because the North is so poor and the South would have to pay for everything. Interesting, since some call South Korea the "welfare queen of U.S. economic aid."

So, I've digressed pretty far from War and Peace, here. But I did find this interesting in what I read today, as Prince Andrei delivers the news to the Austrian emperor and war minister about their small victory:

"It will be as I said in the beginning of the campaign: the matter will not be settled by your skirmishes at Durenstein; as a rule things are settled not by gunpowder, but by those who invented it," said Bilibin. -- p. 200

We fight our wars, and then some great peace accord is signed. Why not just talk peace to begin with?