War & Peace, a Russian novel, was written by Leo Tolstoy and published in 1869. His subjects include the life of the Russian privileged class, the War of 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia and continued all the way to Moscow, and Tolstoy's own points of view which becomes clearer and clearer as the book progresses.
The early parts of the book deal with daily life, Russian high society, the pressures, hopes, and motivations of both the young and old. The primary focus has been on men and women in their twenties and early thirties with an emphasis on the men.
Exquisite suffering is the phrase that has come to mind as I have been reading over the past few days. The lives of some of our major characters have started to unravel. All their naive hopes and beliefs in success and the future are being challenged in a very harsh present. It is true of all of us that as we start out in our twenties all is possible and there is nothing but promise on the horizon. As we age and pass in to our thirties and approach forty (yes, I am talking from my perspective) we experience failures, become aware of our flaws and weaknesses, and are let down by others, our own values/principals and even ourselves.
Tolstoy's expression of what these people suffered in a time when hundreds of thousands of Russian men died in the war is crystal clear. It captures so well what suffering can be and how different people deal with it that you can't help but love the latter part of the book. No, I am not either a sadist or masochist. What the characters experience in suffering is, however, far more real and human than what they experience as they go about their daily lives, trying to meet this and that expectation that others and society have for them.
He captures the division in our lives between fantasy and reality. Fantasy where the artificial constructs of the given social order cause us to respond in essentially mechanistic and constrained ways, removing us from who we uniquely are. Reality where trauma and suffering strip us bare of whatever external façade we have constructed. Leaving only that which is essential remaining - who we truly are. This is, for me, the real beauty of the book. The rest of it was just a prelude to this finale - not the one where all is well, the hero returns victorious and marries the bride who is waiting for him but the one where our characters go on with their lives profoundly changed, no longer the children they once were.
A book worth reading.