War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy 1,296 pages. Vintage Books. $20.
It’s only July so it’s not too late. This could be the summer that you actually do read Tolstoy’s War and Peace. No, don’t turn away. War and Peace is quite a story. It has romance, battle scenes, triumph, heartbreak—oh, and the meaning of life. You don’t want to miss that.
I first read War and Peace the summer I was 15, probably alongside a Nancy Drew mystery. This was before I knew enough to be daunted by the prospect of reading Tolstoy so I just enjoyed it for what it seemed to be: a good book. I’ve reread it at various points in my life and although my understanding of it changes, the story remains as good as ever.
Here’s a 12-word version of War and Peace: Five families live out their lives during the Napoleonic Wars in Russia.
It’s true that a saga about just one family generally contains enough excitement and psychological intrigue for a single novel, but five families in one book? Imagine. And they’re all intertwined: People fall in and out of love. They head off to war. They struggle financially. They raise their kids. Some party. Others scheme. And one, at least, tries to figure out what it all means.
It could be us, right? Perhaps that’s why War and Peace is so often referred to as the greatest novel ever written. Even though it takes place from 1805 to 1812 on the other side of the world, it could be about life in central Illinois right now–well, maybe except for that part where 600,000 Frenchmen invade.
What a book. If not this summer, when?