No no, not that WAP. The original WAP. War and Peace, by Cardi B. I mean Leo Tolstoy.
Longtime readers of this blog will recall a more verbose period of my blogging, when I wrote mostly about books, bad TV, and miscellaneous misadventures in motherhood.
But in addition to being distracted by the past four years of civic conflagration, I’ve since admonished myself that brevity is the soul of wit—an axiom unknown to the author of this Russian novel.
Ok—and I will try not to include any spoilers for those who have not tortured themselves with this alleged classic of towering import in the canon of western literature—but it is, first and foremost, very long. In fact, one might say that length is this book’s defining feature.
The first thing I did when I opened WAP was flip to the end to find out what happens. JK, I flipped to the end to see how many tissue-thin pages of 8-point font translated Russian, French, and sometimes German I’d be committing myself to.
The answer was 1,244. One thousand two hundred and forty-four.
That, by the way, does not include the two translators’ introduction; the chart of principal characters (each of whom is called by 12 different names and all of whose names sound the same as the others); the Appendix (by Tolstoy himself with “a few words” apropos of the aforementioned 1,244 pages); the hundreds of translator footnotes; a historical index, and a summary of each of the four volumes (each of which has multiple subparts) to remind the reader of the key plot points.
But I don’t need any of that, because I’m about to tell you everything that happens in WAP. Or at least in the first 496 pages, which by now you might be able to tell is all I’ve read so far. And let me just say: I’m pretty sure it’s all you really need to get the gist of things.
Lemme break it down.
Picture it: Russia, 1812 or thereabouts. Napoleon is invading from France, because that’s where he lives, because he’s the emperor. (Btw my phone just tried to correct Napoleon to “Nap” when I typed that, which is apt).
Anyhoo, there is a lot of high society stuff going on in Moscow and Petersburg at this time. We’re talking counts. We’re talking carriages. We’re talking princes with estates and peasants and stewards of the peasants and soldiers dying of gangrene in piles on top of each other. We’re talking fancy balls. We’re talking wolf hunts on horseback. We’re talking death marches through the forest and groups of men standing around, homoerotically warming their naked bodies by the midnight bonfires of military encampments.
You know, shit like that.
A 16 year old second-tier aristocrat named Natasha is being pursued by a count’s wealthy son named Pierre and also a prince named Andrei whose first wife died in childbirth. Both of these men decide they are going to marry Natasha on sight, because that’s how it was before Tinder, and there was no Tinder during the Napoleonic wars.
The main thing about Andrei’s first wife is that she had a mustache (which totally made me feel seen since I myself am of hirsute Russian Jewish ancestry and prone to a “Tom Selleck” in Magnum PI aesthetic). As I just mentioned she also died in childbirth, which I’m sure I would have too had I been unlucky enough to be born in a time when leaches were basically oxy.
Pierre is super into the Freemasons and becomes obsessed with them after his wife supposedly cheats on him. He goes on sort of an “Eat, Pray, Love” journey around this time, but it’s less “feminine empowerment” brand, and more “checking up on the peasants and trying to do semi-woke things to make their lives better, to the consternation of middle management on multiple estates” brand. Oh and before all that, he killed his wife’s cocky paramour in a duel, and found out afterwards that the dude lived with his mother and sister.
Meanwhile, Andrei’s dad doesn’t want him to marry Natasha, or at least he wants him to wait a year to evaluate his poor life choices. Natasha loses her shit because to a 16 year-old a year is a long time, but to a pervy old prince and his dad it’s not. Andrei is also working on the new civil government following an agreement between Napoleon and “the sovereign,” who is a total snack and the whole country Stans him.
Ok that’s all I can tell you. Stay tuned for the second installment of this blog post: WAP pages 497-884.