My daughters gave me a copy of the 1,358-page version of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace for my birthday in early December. I began reading it on Dec. 7 and finished seventeen days later on Christmas Eve.
Considered the best novel ever written, I shall not ever disagree with this assessment. War and Peace is the most profound book I have read in dealing with the human condition and with Tolstoy’s discontent and outright contempt for the oversimplification of journalists and historians. In fact, it was these parameters that he sought to overcome in writing this book. In his research and own experiences in battle, he saw that far too much was eliminated in the reporting and recording of journalism and history for them to be even close to accurate, so he set about to writing this book, which he did not consider to be a novel–for it does not really have much of a begining, middle or end–in an effort to tell the fullest story as possible about the Napoleonic wars.
The beauty in this book is in the depth of the writing, and yet the simplicity of it as well. As daunting as it may seem to pick up a 14-hundred page book, it flows like water flowing from a stream or a tap in your kitchen. And while there are in fact about one hundred characters within the work, once you lock on to Pierre, Natasha and Prince Andrey, all the rest of them essentially revolve around these three and then criss-cross because these three are intertwined with each other. Pierre and Andrey are best of friends. Pierre has known Natasha since she was little. Andrey becomes engaged to Natasha, whom she in part knows through Pierre. Add in support characters around those three and you have the other hundred or so, including Napoleon and Russia’s Emperor Alexander I.
There are descriptions of great battles from 1807-1812. There are love stories. There are stories of hardship and strife. There are stories of death and suffering. There are explanations about how historians got things way wrong. There are glimpses into the spectacle of Russian high society and its aristocracy. There is even a dual for honor. All are explained and told with the simplicity noted above so one who is reading feels immersed in the scene and empathetic to the characters looming large.
Count Pierre Bezukhov
Pierre Bezukhov, the main protagonist of the work, and I, seem to have much in common. Nasty marriages that left us in emotional and financial tatters not necessarily of our own fault, a longing to help others no matter the cost or consequence to our own selves, and the quest for knowledge, to right our own wrongs and to leave the world a better place.
Pierre was a trusting soul and got taken for a ride by many. He comes out okay in the end though.
Last week I saw my pain doctor. I’m down 26 pounds now since October, largely due to meds, but I’m also trying. As I was leaving, my doctor told me when he was younger, after one of his first heartbreaks, someone had told him that the most important thing in life isn’t money or property or anything of that like. “The most important thing in life is your health,” he said. “If you have your health, all those other things can get taken care of.”
That isn’t necessarily how Pierre lived his life, but as the war turns in 1812 and the French are retreating from Moscow, Pierre has epiphanies about life and living and he becomes a new man.
Two hundred years later, and a year or two plus, I’ve been learning as well, after so many hardships that the things I have had done to me, and the things I have caused or walked into, while they have affected me in ways that may never stop, they can only dominate me if I let them. And I am tired of giving others power over me when I should not. Even if it is just a memory at this point.
There are still those out to get me, those who think they can ruin me. I think that boat sailed long ago. The only way for me to go at this point in life is up, so knock yourself out trying if you feel so low as to try. You’re wasting your time.
I have recommitted myself to God and to using every day the rest of my life to working to his glory, to getting myself healthier. Despite my continued back and leg pain, Crohn’s, and whatever else is going on inside me, I’m still fighting. Yes, I go to Medical City of Dallas nearly five days a week it seems for one doctor’s visit or another, but I am doing so to get myself well. To find the cures to what ails me.
I am reading all the books I can to enrich my mind. I finished me goal of reading 101 fiction novels. Now it is time to start revising my novels again. But with more strength, more knowledge, more skill.
It is time to take back the life that has been stolen from me by others for whatever reason, to give back what is owed, to live out the remainder of my life on firmer footing and in the best health I can get to.
Sure, there are going to be those who seek to stand in my way. That is just human nature. I’m better equipped now than I was several years ago when so much of my world fell apart.
One of the greatest things I learned from Pierre in War and Peace is that while one is still living, there remains the chance to keep fighting for what is right, for what is best, and for the good of the world.
That’s exactly what I intend to keep doing.