Saturday, November 9, 2013

Enrich your life

War and PeaceWar and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Enrich your life with a great book which is also a treat to read. I cannot recommend it too highly.

First of all, Tolstoy's work: it is famously long because it is epic not just in its geographical and historical sweep but, perhaps more importantly, in the distance it covers between the public world of grand political events and the inner world of individual minds and souls. It is as if Tolstoy is trying to capture the essence of human experience by showing how those worlds relate rather than highlighting one at the expense of the other. In the process he gives us an intimacy with all his main characters that allows us to share not just their hopes and fears, but their own puzzlement with the details of experience that people notice but perhaps never mention even to their nearest and dearest. In short, it is fascinatingly real, and, surprisingly to me, had some of the qualities of a good soap opera: you have your favourite characters and storylines which change as events unfold.

Second, the translation: I have tried to read a couple of previous translations, and never got hooked. This one is perfect. The language is elegant without being stuffy, never self-conscious and never trendy. The introduction by the translators helps, showing their passion for what they are doing and their commitment to creating something that somehow sits, as they say, 'between' the original Russian and our English. The physical book itself is beautiful: it's nice to have a design on the hard cover rather than having a paper cover that will soon get worn.

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