This massive chronicle, to which Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) devoted five whole years shortly after his marriage, portrays Russian family life during and after the Napoleonic war.
It is first and foremost the story of a handful of characters: the Rostovs, the Bolkonskys, Pierre. It is not a book about war or peace in the grand, overarching sense, but about people and how they cope with such times. Tolstoy's view was that there is no point in writing only about the general course of the war - it's the people that matter.
But, unlike most other novelists, Tolstoy takes you into the lives of his characters by presenting their stories within a historical context presented with an extraordinary level of detail. From this, the popular misconception arises that War and Peace is the story of the Napoleonic Wars, as thought it were some kind of 19th Century Tom Clancy novel. It is not.
As the book goes on and the ongoing war becomes more intense, a great deal of space is devoted to descriptions of the progress of the war and analysis of its causes and effects. It can seem as though Tolstoy has forgetten his characters and readers naturally become confused and wonder what the book is all about.
But when that happens to you, persevere. It *is* worth it. At the end of the First Epilogue everything falls into place and the immense value of all that historical detail will become obvious through the way you empathise with the characters.
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