Saturday, 19 July 2014

'Give War and Peace a Chance' This Summer with Andrew D. Kaufman

My copy of Give War and Peace a Chance,
before it was covered in Post-it notes.
If there were any book I'd be desperate to read,  it would involve the life lessons we can gain from Leo Tolstoy and War and Peace. This explains why I was so excited to receive a copy of Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times by likeminded Andrew D. Kaufman in the post this week.

My goal of reading Tolstoy every August is coming round fast, and I have to say this has made for some ideal pre-reading.

Kaufman, a Russian scholar, successfully makes War and Peace appear what to many seems impossible: fun. In an early chapter Kaufman recalls one of his friends exclaiming "Tolstoy's funny!", and this anecdote seems to have had a central role in the crafting of Give War and Peace a Chance.

For instance, here's Kaufman's account of one of Tolstoy's most complex moments, with the deep depression of losing his childhood home through gambling followed by a moment of sublime enlightenment:

There he is, in the middle of a nondescript gravel pathway deep in some godforsaken village in the Crimea, and instead of cutting his own throat, as he knows he deserves, Tolstoy contemplates starting his own religion. Of course, founding a new faith takes a while, and in the meantime he continued gambling, sleeping with random Asiatic beauties, and waking up with hangovers at noon.

It's a light, refreshing take on classic Russian literature, and Kaufman isn't afraid to laugh at himself and his less fortunate experiences. As a result, the book has a welcome personal side to it too. Overall, I have to say that this is the book I've been waiting for on Tolstoy's War and Peace.

Kaufman has done a marvellous job of conveying the sense of life, wonder and beauty of War and Peace, and I think both Tolstoy fans and unfamiliar readers would do well to give it a go. It's also given me so many ideas for articles here on the blog, so keep tuned for those!

Like Cézanne, who is said to have painted an apple in such a way that it seemed as though you were looking at it for the very first time, Tolstoy portrays life with an almost disconcerting truthfulness. Indeed, War and Peace thrusts readers raised on more polished literary fare out of their familiar paradigms and into a brave new fictional world, which, for all its strangeness, somehow starts to feel more "real" than reality itself.

Give War and Peace a Chance, Andrew D. Kaufman

Click here to see some of the posts I've enjoyed writing on Tolstoy and the influence he's had on my own life, especially when it comes to my perfectionism, shyness and anxiety.

Recently I also wrote on the main life lessons I've gained from reading Tolstoy's major works.

Has Tolstoy affected your life too? Don't hesitate to share your story in the comments or send me a message!

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Irene McKenna said...

Ooh ... this looks terrific! Based on these snippets, I like the author's style and sense of humor. This isn't really a story about how Tolstoy affected my life, but I finally got around to reading War and Peace and Anna Karenina in my early 30's. My son had just been born, and I would lie awake eagerly turning pages while he nursed. I'm not sure whether that story makes me look like a good bibliophile or a bad mother. :-) But it's a pleasant memory, nonetheless. Maybe someday I should write a memoir titled "Breastfeeding with Tolstoy." Ha ha!

Brian Joseph said...

I love books about books. At the same time I wonder about reading them as I think that I should be actually the actual literature instead. Time to read is at such a premium.

With all that, this sounds like a must read for those interested in Russian Literature.

Michal said...

Shame on me, I read nothing of Tolstoy's work!?!!
But War & Peace is next on my short list of classic I need to read. I already read "The Art of War", "Odyssey", "Illiad", "On War", so I'm quite confident I'll manage W&P too.

tolstoytherapy said...

Well done for reading those superb books, Michal! War and Peace is such a brilliant book too, especially if you can find a translation which suits you. Let's hope you can read and enjoy it in future!

Happy reading,

tolstoytherapy said...

That would be an amazing memoir, Irene! It's such a wonderful story for you to have - I'm sure you would have been perceived as a very well-read mother ;)

I think you'd really enjoy Kaufman's book, especially as it would bring back all those memories...let's hope you manage to give it a go someday!

Happy reading,