Thursday, July 4, 2013

Dexter Filkins on War and Peace

New Yorker writer Dexter Filkins is reading War and Peace, and he has this to say about it:

I’m reading “War and Peace” as I travel through the Middle East. It’s a battered Signet Classic paperback, copyright 1968, translated by Ann Dunnigan. The covers, fraying and crumbling, cling to the rest of the book with the aid of of scotch tape. John Bayley’s introduction has broken from the binder completely, along with the first thirty-two pages.
I’m on page four hundred and sixty-nine, which means I have only nine-hundred eighty-six pages to go. (Pierre and Andrei have just met on Andrei’s estate, Bogucharovo, and are having a philosophical argument about the utility of trying to do good in the world.) I’m in Tel Aviv, and headed, soon enough, to, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon: war here, peace there. I wonder whether my copy can survive the journey.
People considering reading “War and Peace” are justifiably terrified by its length; it is eight-hundred thousand words long. But readers should not be daunted by Tolstoy’s prose, which is clear and simple. “War and Peace” is a fast read. Here’s a sample from page four hundred and fifty-seven. Andrei, wounded while fighting Napoleon’s invasion, has just returned home to witness the birth of his son and the death of his wife. He has resolved not to return to the front. Here he is alone with sister, Marya, and his baby boy.
Prince Andrei looked at his sister. In the dim shadow of the canopy her luminous eyes shone more brilliantly than usual, filled as they were with tears of joy. She leaned over to her brother and kissed him, slightly catching the curtains of the crib. Each made the other a warning sign and stood still in the dim light of the canopy, as if unwilling to leave the seclusion where they three were alone, shut off from all the world. Prince Andrei was the first to move away, ruffling his hair against the curtains.
“Yes, this is the one thing left to me now,” he said with a sigh.

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