There’s a long section (about 100 pages) at the end of War and Peace that serves as a treatise on the nature of small events building to create large events, about the incrementalism of history and historiography. This section serves as an epilogue to the remaining 1000 or so pages, and by the time you’ve gotten that far, if you haven’t already picked up your pace too meet the length of the novel, well, what’s another 100 at the conclusion of all the different stories.
Both in form and following this theme, Vasily Grossman’s long, but not as long novel (900 pages versus 1300) Life and Fate mimics this same style of short incremental bursts of narration, storytelling, recurring characters alongside one shot actors, and various treatises on war, Fascism, Judaism, Antisemitism, country, literature, and various other topics and with its 100 plus characters makes several glaring nods to Tolstoy’s novel. I can’t say for sure, but this surely seems like Grossman’s magnum opus. (Oddly, I definitely like and am more impressed by Anna Karenina than War and Peace). This novel sort of languors at times, moves a fast pace at others. Its challenge is that of stamina and length like a slow-paced marathon, but not in complexity of thought. Several of the long treatises are good and thoughtful, but not expressly articulate or profound. The story-telling is apt, but not always its best features.
As a retelling of War and Peace, its biggest weakness is the replacing of Napoleon for Hitler. Hitler comes across as not particularly interesting or complicated or complex. Tolstoy’s Napoleon is something altogether more clever and intelligent, honorable and complex. Hitler is hardly a buffoon, but there’s something less appealing as a character in this one.
I think I read this book a week or so too early in the year. I usually save my long-ass Russian novels for the week of state-tests at my school. Maybe that’s my complaint.