Reading War and Peace was all the adventure I had hoped. Though I cannot say I found it immaculate as a work of art, War and Peace, "loose baggy monster" that it is, has so very many virtues, and so much I can learn from as a writer, that I only wish I'd read it years sooner. I also feel immensely grateful to have had the chance to enter into this long ago world of Russia before, during, and after Napoleon's invasion.
Susan Sontag said the novel is an education of the heart. How true this is, and how splendidly well -- apart from a few clunky digressions-- Tolstoy does this. A good novel, a novel such as War and Peace, lets the reader experience not cheap thrills to pass the time but a real sense of other lived lives. As foreign as he is to me, Pierre is me. Nikolai is me. Old Countess Rostov, Bolkonsky, Kutuzov, Bilibin, Dolokhov, Sonya, Napoleon-- all of them, for I, as we all, have uncounted facets of my being, facets that may never manifest, but that does not mean they are not there. What would it be like to be a fusty Russian aristocrat? A loyal servant? A Swiss tutor? To fight in the Battle of Austerlitz? To lose all one's money? To walk barefoot for a hundred miles? Encounter an emperor, stab with a sword, gallop on the swiftest of horses over snow dusted fields?
In sum, for having read War and Peace, my sense of the world and of what it means to be human has expanded. Dear Leo Tolstoy, and his translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volkhonsky, here on the last day of 2011, in the English language, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.