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Reading the World 2008: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

This is the fourteenth Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website. There’s also a podcast discussing RTW available from World Books.

I’m really not sure how to write a mini-review of War and Peace. . . I know I’m going out a limb here, but I’m pretty sure most of our readers have heard of this Leo Tolstoy. But in a way, that’s what’s cool about RTW—the mix of contemporary voices and true classics.

What’s amazing to me is how much attention such an enormous, dense retranslation received when it came out last year. Part of the reason was the controversy over the quality of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s translation, part of it was the New York Times Reading Room discussion. (I remember Karl Pohrt of Shaman Drum Bookshop telling me that it was impossible to keep this edition on the shelf during this book club.)

It didn’t hurt that a second edition of War and Peace “original version” according to the publisher—came out at the same time.

But generally speaking, I think this is a testament to the fact that there is a large group of readers out there who are interested in the classics. They’re interested in reading the “Great Books” regardless of how much they weigh . . .

Richard Pevear puts it best in the opening to his introduction:

War and Peace is the most famous and at the same time the most daunting of Russian novels, as vast as Russia itself and as long to cross from one end to the other. Yet if one makes the journey, the sights seen and the people met on the way mark one’s life forever.



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