Opinion| War and Peace

Creative Corner

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

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War and PeaceOriginal Cover of the Book

Many years ago I was sitting in the reading room of Muhammad Khalid Akhtar, a renowned writer of Urdu literature in Pakistan, when I saw a heavy book that looked like a holy book. You know the holy books are mostly kept in home for the sake of keeping them. Out of curiosity, I took out the book from my friend’s bookshelf. I felt as if I was carrying a brick in my hand.

“Have you read this book?” I asked Khalid Akhtar.

“No, not yet,” he replied.

“But you are so fond of classical books that you even read them in your bathroom.”

“Well, I’ll read it before my death, and it will be my last book.”

“Okay, then you wait for your death and let me read this book.”

I got that book and read it in three weeks. It was, in fact, the discovery of beauty for me. This novel is an epic tale, if I’m not wrong calling it an epic tale, is obsessed over trivia of human life and society. I actually lived with the characters and have those moments when we can really slow down and live with the characters, understand what they’re thinking and feeling. Though there are many subjects in this novel, but love is the subject that impressed me. Here, let me quote my favorite theme in it:

“Love hinders death. Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.” These thoughts seemed to him comforting. But they were only thoughts. Something was lacking in them, they were not clear, they were too one-sidedly personal and brain-spun. And there was the former agitation and obscurity.

It’s too lengthy but you won’t find absurdity of length at any stage. Initially, you are introduced to too many characters but then it becomes lucid and smooth. Soon you become familiar with the main characters Pierre Bezukhov, Prince Andrei Bolonsky, Natasha Ilyinichna and Nikolai Ilyich, whose individual narratives cross over and intertwine throughout the novel. The role of an individual in the ongoing generation of history is the main theme, as in Leo Tolstoy’s own words: “The movement of humanity, arising as it does from innumerable arbitrary human wills, is continuous.”

Regarding the craft, Tolstoy’s prose will amaze you. When he talks about the cold weather, we feel it in our bones. Here, for example, I quote him to show you his SHOWING skill:

By morning the night’s fog had left only hoarfrost turning into dew on the heights, but in the hollows the fog still spread its milk-white sea. Nothing could be seen in that hollow to the left, into which our troops had descended and from which came the sounds of gunfire. Over the heights was a dark, clear sky, and to the right-the enormous ball of the sun. Far ahead, on the other shore of the sea of fog, one could make out the jutting, wooded hills on which the enemy army was supposed to be, and something was discernible.

Though it will take weeks to finish but I’m sure when you finish it you will reopen it again and again.

Here are few extracts from this unforgettable novel:

Life is everything. Life is God. Everything shifts and moves, and this movement is God. And while there is life, there is delight in the self-awareness of the divinity. To love life is to love God. The hardest and most blissful thing is to love this life in one’s suffering, in the guiltlessness of suffering.”

“How often we sin, how much we deceive, and all for what?… All will end in death, all!”

“What is bad? What is good? What should one love, what hate? Why live, and what am I? What is lie, what is death? What power rules over everything?” he asked himself. And there was no answer to any of these questions except one, which was not logical and was not at all an answer to these questions. This answer was: “You will die — and everything will end. You will die and learn everything — or stop asking.”

“Never, never marry, my friend. Here’s my advice to you: don’t marry until you can tell yourself that you’ve done all you could, and until you’ve stopped loving the woman you’ve chosen, until you see her clearly, otherwise you’ll be cruelly and irremediably mistaken. Marry when you’re old and good for nothing…Otherwise all that’s good and lofty in you will be lost.”

“Smiling with pleasure, they went through their memories, not sad, old people’s memories, but poetic, youthful ones, those impressions from the very distant past where dream merges with reality, and they laughed softly, rejoicing at something.”

“I don’t give a damn unless I’m fond of a person; but I’d sacrifice my life for those I am fond of; the rest I’d throttle if they stood in my way…And you may not believe me but if I still set a value on life it is only because I still hope one day to meet such a heavenly creature who will regenerate me, purify me and elevate me. But you don’t understand that.”

“If there is a God and future life, there is truth and good, and man’s highest happiness consists in striving to attain them. We must live, we must love, and we must believe that we live not only today on this scrap of earth, but have lived and shall live”

“Each man lives for himself, uses his freedom to achieve his personal goals, and feels with his whole being that right now he can or cannot do such-and-such an action; but as soon as he does it, this action, committed at a certain moment in time, becomes irreversible, and makes itself the property of history, in which is has not a free but a predestined significance."

“How strange, extraordinary, and joyful it was to her to think that her son — the little son, whose tiny limbs had faintly stirred within her twenty years ago, for whose sake she had so often quarreled with the count, who would spoil him, the little son, who had first learnt to say grusha, and then had learnt to say baba — that that son was now in a foreign land, in strange surroundings, a manly warrior, alone without help or guidance, doing there his proper manly work. All the world-wide experience of ages, proving that children do imperceptibly from the cradle grow up into men, did not exist for the countess. The growth of her son had been for her at every stage of his growth just as extraordinary as though millions of millions of men had not grown up in the same way. Just as, twenty years before, she could not believe that the little creature that was lying somewhere under her heart, would one day cry and learn to talk, now she could not believe that the same little creature could be that strong, brave man, that paragon of sons and of men that, judging by this letter, he was now.”

“Man can be master of nothing while he fears death, but he who does not fear it possesses all. If there were no suffering, man would not know his limitations, would not know himself. The hardest thing is to be able in your soul to unite the meaning of all. To unite all? Pierre asked himself. “No, not to unite. Thoughts cannot be united, but to harness all these thoughts together is what we need! Yes, one must harness them, must harness them!”

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Muhammad Nasrullah Khan is the publisher of Creative Corner. His short stories and poems are well-recognized internationally for his unique style. His creative work has appeared in Adbusters, Evergreen review, Indiana Voice Journal, Newtopia Magazine, Gowanus Books,Offcourse literary Journal University at Albany, The Raven Chronicles, and many others. His book is available on Amazon at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08D7WZXVL

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