War and Peace

A shout-out to Mary Ellen, who’s pushed for reading Tolstoy by our book club.

I’ve discovered a fabulous discussion of Tolstoy’s War and Peace at the New York Times’ Reading Room blog.

Here’s a taste from the introduction by Sam Tanenhaus.

Why “War and Peace”? Well, it’s one of the greatest novels ever written — the very greatest, some would say. It is, moreover, almost eerie in its timeliness, with its sweeping detailed narrative of military invasion and occupation (by France of Russia in 1812) set against political and social intrigue in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as experienced by aristocratic families, some of them in decline.

“War and Peace” is not just massive. It is sturdily and delicately structured. The novel divides into four volumes (there is also an epilogue). We’ll cover one volume each week — though the panelists will be encouraged to range freely over the whole of the book, its opulent mix of incidents and characters (who include Napoleon and Czar Alexander) and also to tackle Tolstoy’s profound meditations on history, philosophy, religion and human nature.

The participants are:

  • Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, reported from the paper’s Moscow Bureau from December, 1986, until October, 1991.
  • Stephen Kotkin teaches history and directs the program in Russian and Eurasian studies at Princeton University.
  • Francine Prose’s most recent book is “Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.”
  • Liesl Schillinger is a regular reviewer for the Book Review, studied comparative literature and Russian at Yale, and lived in Moscow in 1993, where she was editor of the English supplement of Moscow Magazine and wrote dispatches for The New Republic.
  • Sam Tanenhaus is the editor of the Book Review
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