Monday, June 08, 2009

Wish me luck

On Sunday afternoon I embarked on a long-awaited journey: I'm reading War and Peace.

I've read most of Dostoyevsky's novels, Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, and in college I read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and loved it. But when it came to War and Peace, I was skittish. I remember my 9th grade English teacher's warnings about that novel: it was long and every character had six names. The scope of the novel was daunting enough, and then there was the strong possibility that I wouldn't have a clue who anyone was. Also, I remember a series of Peanuts comics in which Charlie Brown had to read the book. If my teacher's admonitions didn't do the trick, seeing that poor kid struggle with Tolstoy kept me away from the book for decades.

A few years ago the New Yorker ran an article about Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the husband-and-wife translating team whose editions of Dostoevsky's novels received great reviews. I read their versions of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov and while both books took me months to read, I relished the experiences. When I learned that they were working on a version of Tolstoy's masterwork, I couldn't wait to read it. I waited a bit longer than I thought. Their translation was published in late 2007 and I picked up my copy last year. After I finished The Road last week, I waited a few days to pick my next book. I couldn't hold out for long.

At the moment I'm only 20 pages in and constantly referring back to the list of characters in the front, but I have a decent idea who everyone is. Tolstoy's descriptions of the people and the settings reminds me of Anna Karenina, so I'm in familiar territory. On the other hand, the text is in English and French (with translations at the bottom of each page), plus historical endnotes. No matter. If I enjoy War and Peace as much as I enjoyed Tolstoy's other masterpiece, I have a delightful few months ahead of me.

1 comment:

Jeff Laughlin said...

I'm doing Quijote this year and I might follow with War and Peace. We shall see.