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Twitters on War and Peace

I want to share my students’ feedback on the novel and their reading experience. The depth of their insights, the enthusiasm, and perseverance (you need it for a 1400-page book) have truly inspired me and helped me gain a better understanding of the book.

Tolstoy is able to go in and out of his creations’ lives with simplicity and without exaggeration, whether its in relating the most common moments of their daily lives or the climaxes of their earthly existences. This is what kept me engaged.”

I never thought I could finish this book. It was a challenge to even think about signing up for this course. “War and Peace” gave me a much greater respect for Tolstoy than I had previously held (having read Anna Karenina, among others).”

The size of the book was daunting. If I had to pick only one novel that I would ever be able to read again, it would have to be War and Peace. The lectures on realism, Tolstoy’s style, and digression of Napoleon also made it very fun to read.”

Don’t be put off by the length, it’s quite possible to pick up and put down (although we were on a very rigorous schedule!) It maintains its power and vividness of scene and character however long you leave it alone. The war scenes are as gripping as the peace scenes, and there is a great deal to learn from Tolstoy, even us, even now.”

I have read the novel before this course but only vaguely remember the details. Thanks to the mini lectures on historical background, Tolstoy’s writing style and the critical analysis of characters that make this journey very enlightening. the book presents plenty of interesting philosophical and scientific (“science of history”) ideas. The chief one is undoubtedly the question “What causes and shapes historical events?”. Contrary to the popular dogma that historical events are the result of actions of single notable persons (such as Napoleon or king Alexander), Tolstoy believes that such persons don’t really cause events, but rather can only affect them in some ways once they are already in existence. He claims that what really changes history is the amalgam of human actions, built from thousands, nay, millions of small decisions, desires and ambitions of the people.”

I really enjoy reading the book and the discussion on how “peace” really has an implication on the people–how they eventually come to terms of themselves and the society, how they find peace among themselves. “War and peace” but may also mean “War and society”, since “peace” and “society” are homonyms in Russian. There are differences of opinion as to which Tolstoy actually meant when he authored the book. It is very obvious that Tolstoy places a lot of emphasis on society in the book.”

The novel is quite long, and that is the reason I found that I picked up this book in the past and then put it down (not completely grasping the naming structures and not having time I felt to give it my full attention). However, after having finally taken the time to read this great manuscript, it really is a simple story about life, love (true or not), loyalty, friendship, responsibility (real accountability or feigned) and leadership. It is also once again a story of families and their love for each other and how they are able to show their love for one another or how the love is still present; but remains emotionally hidden or ineffectual. And it is a story of how one must understand the true meaning of life and must be content in one’s own skin; before love can truly blossom and be realized.”

We’re having a little party to celebrate the completion of the chunkster in class today. Then we’ll move on to The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevksy.

5 Responses

  1. You’re a great prof, from reading the comments.

    Congrats on bringing the novel alive for the students.

  2. Kudos, Professor Yau. Very interesting comments from your students; thanks for sharing, they have some good thoughts. I certainly agree that there is still much relevance in this work for the contemporary reader, and I’m glad you’ve given them this opportunity to discover this. I’m rereading the novel for the 3rd time (I’ve just reached the halfway point). I must say, each time I read this novel, I enjoy it more. I’m reading the new Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. Even though I’ve had some reservations about their work with other novels, they seem to do very well with Tolstoy.

  3. This is another one that I’ve been tempted to pick up, but the length hinders my actually leaving a bookstore or library with it. The only other Tolstoy I’ve read is Anna Karenina, and I want so much to read this one. I’ll just have to break down and give it a go.

  4. Sounds like a nice group of students you have there. Must be the nice professor! 🙂 I’m eager to find out what the students think of Dostoevsky; between the two, I’m much more of a Tolstoy fan.

  5. Wow, it is a large book. I have never read it, nor spent any time studying Tolstoy in college. After reading the quotes from your students, maybe I’ll give War and Peace a try.

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