Thursday, May 26, 2011

War and Peace

I am just finishing Tolstoy's massive War and Peace. I read it as a teenager, then in a course on the Russian novel about which I remember far too little. Then, both times, I believe it was in the classic Constance Garnett translation.

Now I've been reading the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. It's like reading a new novel. Of course, I am rather a different person from the teenager/college student, so that might have something to do with the novelty.

Two big themes are surfacing: one, that enormous historical events like the Napoleonic wars are not the product of one man. It's an anti-Romantic novel in that sense, against that Romantic sense that the genius (composer, poet, general, emperor) creates sublime outcomes. In this novel, the general/Emperor is at the mercy of chance, history, the crowd, geography. Napoleon took Moscow because his soldiers saw the chance to loot it. Not because it was part of his grand design.

The other theme: people actually do grow up; time and suffering changes people and they become tolerable human beings, even good ones. Three protagonists (if you're going to do a 1,000-page novel, you have room for that): Natasha Rostov, a young aristocrat; Pierre Bezuhov, a "seeker after truth"; Andrei Bolkonsky, a landowner/soldier. Two survive, one dies. They all do unpleasant things and yet we like, respect, understand them.

Is it long? well, I asked for it for Christmas two and half years ago and am now finishing it! Is it worth it? absolutely!

Here's a color photo of Tolstoy:

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Location:Edgemeer Pl,Oberlin,United States

Cleveland Orchestra: Adams to Beethoven

 Last weekend we went to the Cleveland Orchestra and I reviewed it.
 The short version: Emanuel Ax played Haydn and Stravinsky with elegance; the orchestra played a wonderful meaty piece by John Adams; and they ended with a Beethoven 8th that was not terribly well rehearsed.