War and Piece

— Нездоровы, брат, бывают только дураки да развратники, а ты меня знаешь: с утра до вечера занят, воздержен, ну и здоров.
— Слава Богу, — сказал сын, улыбаясь.
— Бог тут не при чем. —

Война и мир
Лев Толстой

“Only fools and profligates can be unwell, my boy, and you know me: I’m busy from morning till evening, I’m temperate, and so I’m well.”
“Thank God,” his son said, smiling.
“God has nothing to do with it.”

War and Peace
Lev Tolstoy, Translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

1967 05 13 War and Peace Lyceum TheatreI’ve been making progress in my reading of War and Peace.

But the progress has been slow. I have several different translations, but the one I’ve decided to read is by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Alas, this one mimics Tolstoy’s use of foreign languages, so where Tolstoy inserted a French or German passage, Pevear and Volokhonsky do the same, which means I have to tap on the * to get to the endnote to see the translation. And of course, I like to try to figure out what that French or German passage means before looking up the translation, so that slows me down.

Along with all the other things that typically slow me down. Tolstoy uses a lot of words that I’ve never encountered before. Like sutler. Do you know what a sutler is? I didn’t. Plus all the historical references. So I’m constantly interrupting myself to look up those references.

It might be asked why I’m reading this translation when I have others available that do translate everything, and that’s a fair question. And the answer is that I think this translation might be closer to Tolstoy’s Russian than the others.

As just one for instance, Pevear and Volokhonsky describe Pierre as “fat”. Over and over again that word is used to describe him. Other translations seem to use “stout”, which conveys a different meaning. I’m assuming that “fat” is closer to what Tolstoy meant.

Another thing that has slowed me down is the battle sequences. It’s not that I find them boring, exactly; it’s that my eyes just glaze over and I find that I’ve read a whole chapter describing a battle and at the end I realize I have no idea what I just read. I seem to be allergic to war details. The same thing happens when I read a history of our War Between the States—the battle descriptions go in one eye and out the other.

But I think I get what Tolstoy is trying to convey. His characters are disillusioned when they encounter the real brutalities of war, and the politicians who are waging the war far from the battlefields are really assholes. Seemingly nothing has changed.

I’ve been reminded that in 1967 two classmates and I traveled to NYC to visit Debbie whose family had moved there the previous year. Among other things, we attended a matinee of a production of War and Peace. About the only thing I recall from that performance is the brilliant staging where the battle scenes were presented on a giant chessboard; as the actors moved the pieces around a narrator intoned the details.

War and Peace

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War and Peace Review

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