War and Peace Readalong, Part 2: War is Boring but 1-Star Reviews Aren’t

A Note on Names: Since I am reading the Maude translation, I will be using its version of certain names in the text: Andrew instead of Andrei, Nicholas instead of Nikolai, etc. I’m sure you will hate it, but this is the book I’m reading and these who they are to me. 


1. What Went Down in Volume 1, Part 2

In Part II we leave Petersburg high society and venture out to Braunau, Austria. General Kutuzov, the head of the Semyonovsky regiment, is so opposed to his men joining the Austrians in their fight against Napoleon that he makes them dress in rags, in the hopes that the Austrians will refuse their help. It matters not, since the Austrians surrender anyway, thereby clearing a path toward the Russians for Napoleon and his army. Despite Kutuzov’s attempts, the Semyonovsky regiment will soon see action.

Meanwhile, in the Pavlogradsky regiment, Nicholas and company are ordered to destroy a bridge that the French must cross before they arrive. A siege occurs, and the regiment succeeds.

General Kutuzov takes his regiment back through Austria in order to meet up with additional Russian troops. On the way, they attack a French regiment and win, giving them their first victory of the war. He sends Andrew to the Austrian court to announce the victory. Despite the good news, the Austrian minister of war is unimpressed, as an important Austrian general was killed in action. Andrew is offended and boo boo faced.

Andrew’s friend Bilibin, the Russian ambassador to Austria, thinks the minister acted the way he did because he is pissed that the Russians stole their victory away from them. The Russians succeeded where the Austrians did not. This turns Andrew’s frown upside down, and he falls asleep thinking happy thoughts of battle.

Days later (after worlds collide and Andrew is introduced to Vassili’s son Hippolyte, now in Brunn), the French take Vienna and are marching toward Brunn. This means that Andrew’s regiment is cut off from Russian reinforcements. Andrew, however, thinks this is his chance at glory. You know, like an idiot.

The next six or seven chapters are dedicated to the fighting, the dying, and the loss of half the Russian men who fought. Nicholas is shot, but still alive. Separately, Nicholas and Andrew reflect on the fact that war is not exactly what they thought it would be. You know, like idiots.

In the end, despite heavy casualties, the combined might of the Semyonovsky and Pavlogradsky regiments hold off the French. For now.


2. What I’m Liking

Dolokhov’s Pursuit of Redemption —  In Volume 1, Part 1, Dolokhov could have generously been described as a “chode,” but in Part 2 it was nice to see him determined to restore his good name. While the men in his regiment gamble and drink their days away, Dolokhov refuses, saying that he will do neither until he is promoted out of his lowly rank. Later in the section, he seeks out Kutuzov in order to make sure the General noticed how well he fought during the battle. I expected Dolokhov to be a total dick the whole time. There might be hope for him yet.

A Smidgeon of Philosophical Discussion — In Chapter 16 there’s a short conversation about what happens to us after we die.

“…if it were possible to know what is beyond death, none of us would be afraid of it…”

“One is afraid of the the unknown, that’s what it is. Whatever we may say about the soul going to the sky…we know there is no sky but only an atmosphere.”

One of the major selling points of War and Peace, to me, is Tolstoy’s philosophical nature. Thus far, there have been few passages to inspire philosophical discussion, but this one at least teases us with something.

Bullshit Patriotism — Many of the characters in this section–Andrew, Nicholas, Hippolyte–enthusiastically support the Russian cause, but their reasons are rarely, if ever, due to some common national identity. Andrew wants glory in battle (and a reprieve from his wife); Nicholas wants the romance of an adventurous life; Hippolyte wants to fuck his way across Europe. Each is interested in their own bullshit. None of this is for Russia.

The Absurdity of War — Modern warfare isn’t idealized here. It’s shown to be barbaric, disgusting, and disturbingly violent. The reality of war is well beyond the romantic picture these men had painted for themselves. If Part 1 was something of a parody of social society, I think Part 2 was equally so, of war.


3. What I’m Not Liking

Poor POVs — I cannot … believe … that this section wasn’t seen through the eyes of Andrew and Nicholas, solely. This section was as much about Kutuzov, Bilibin, and Tushin. While those three are decent characters (I quite like them, actually), Tolstoy’s failure to ground this story (which is now 250 pages in) in his characters is slightly troubling. It seems a clear indication that the giant tapestry is of more interest to him than the lives of our “heroes” — Pierre, Andrew, Nicholas, Helene, Dolokhov, etc. So far, he’s given us very little to get behind, no one to invest in, nor any indication that he’s going to.

Bland War — For 120+ pages about a war, I thought this section was honestly so boring. I’m not condoning skipping the war sections, as has been discussed by many people at length, but I can certainly see why some people don’t care for it. Honestly, I thought the recap I wrote earlier sounded a lot more interesting than it actually was.

I’m Reading Another Book and It’s Great — I knew this was a risk going in, but I did it anyway. While I’m reading War and Peace I’m also reading The Witchwood Crown, the sequel to my favourite novel of all time, by my favourite writer of all time (Tad Williams). It is absolutely wonderful and I am loving every word and by comparison Tolstoy will lose in every way all day forever, when it comes to me. This is entirely unfair, I know, but it’s there. I’m hoping to blaze through Witchwood as fast as I can but it’s an 800-page book so it will take a while. (Yes, I’m reading an 800-page book while reading another 1500-page book, which is stupid and masochistic and I know so bugger off.)


4. Favourite Quotations

“Nicholas Rostov turned away and, as if searching for something, gazed into the distance, at the waters of the Danube, at the sky, and at the sun. How beautiful the sky looked; how blue, how calm, and how deep! How bright and glorious was the setting sun! With what soft glitter the waters of the distant Danube shone. And fairer still were the far away blue mountains beyond the river, the nunnery, the mysterious gorges, and the pine forests veiled in mist to their summits … There was peace and happiness … ‘I should wish for nothing else, nothing if only I were there,’ thought Rostov.”

Maybe my favourite quote of the novel so far. This happens while Nicholas is looking out over the bridge siege, seeing his first act of war and the death that goes with it. Beautifully written.

“…a number of sick and wounded had been avandoned on the other side of the Danube with a letter in which Kutuzov entrusted them to the humanity of the enemy.”

This felt like a bit of a throwaway line at the time, but it stuck with me. This idea of wounded soldiers being left at the mercy of the opposing army, with the hope that they will, in fact, show mercy, is a small example of the grittiness Tolstoy refuses to shy away from.


5. How I’m Feeling in One GIF

giphy (1)

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The Funniest 1-Star Goodreads Reviews of War & Peace

One of life’s greatest joys is reading 1-star reviews of books that are actually good. People’s responses are usually so melodramatic and, well, wrong, that one can’t help but laugh at them. After 120+ pages of boring war (more like BORE AND PEACE, amirite?!) I took some time today to read W&P‘s 1-star reviews on Goodreads. As always, it did not disappoint. All spelling mistakes are their fault, not mine. Again, these are not smart people.


I hope Tolstoy was as miserable upon publication of this as I was while reading it.
– Wendy

Tolstoy is like a kindergartener talking about his day. He has a keen eye and feel for detail, but no ability to distinguish between what is relevant and compelling and what isn’t.
– Phil

20 pages about a blue coat is not good reading.
– Alex

Tolstoy is the sort of author you say you like if you’re a bit on the stupid side but want to be perceived as well-read.
– Avis

I am marking this book as done! It has sucked enough of my life to warrant my taking the full credit for having finished it.
– Heather

Imagine that an author had only enough story, characterization, and wisdom for a 60,000-word novel, but that by some terrible mathematical error he wrote a 600,000-word novel instead. The result would be Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
– Travis

Writing: 4
World Building: 5
Characters: -6000
Overall: 1
– Melody

Reading War and Peace was a new experience in sadomasochism, with none of the purported sexual benefits. Fuck War and Peace. Stay away.
– Hilary

I have thrown this book at a wall so many times.
– Amy

I heard somewhere that your approach to this book is proportionately correlated to the measure of your intellect… Well this tome has insulted mine, slapped it senselss in the alleyway and made away with its lunch money.. I cannot possibly imagine nor covet the reward behind of this archaic piece of dejection.
– Alex

TERRIBLE. HORRIBLE. BORING. LONGER THAN THE BIBLE.
– kesseljunkie

I started reading this book the summer before I took my first Russian Lit class in college because I thought I would not be able to finish it once school started. I got about 400 pages into it before school and then when it wasn’t on the syllabus I stopped reading.
– Rachel

A cure for insomnia.
– Bharati

Doorstop. Ballast. Stepping stool. Sleeping aid. Kindling. Compost material.
– Hjd

And my favourite…

TL;DR.
– Mark

10 Comments

  1. Oddly, I didn’t find the war bits boring, and I liked the fact that Tolstoy introduced some other characters. But it would be dull if we all liked the same things! And those 1 star reviews are priceless – obviously people who should never have picked up the book! 🙂

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  2. I don’t think Nikolai even got shot. I think he just fell off his horse and dislocated his shoulder or something. I could be wrong.

    I’m another who didn’t find the war stuff boring. I found it so fascinating, what they have to go through to fight a war on multiple fronts, with people all over the place, huge chains of command… and no way to communicate other than IN PERSON. It’s so crazy. How did it work? How did anything work? Why, with modern technology, does much of this still resonate??

    I was also struck by leaving behind your wounded in enemy territory. Like, what else could you do? Just so many things I’ve never thought about, and I’ve read a few war books…

    You did a great summary of what happened. It helped me but it all together. And yes these guys are all idiots and boo boo faced!!

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    1. You know what, you’re right. Went back and realized he was wounded and just ESCAPED being shot. Goes to show where my head was at while reading this section. I shall edit the above most accordingly!

      It’s a great point about war communication in 1805. Hard to believe the world worked any other way prior to the internet. It’s kind of mind-boggling. I think about business communication before 1995 all the time. I don’t understand how anything got done on time. Timelines must be SO much faster now.

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