Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Why Andrew Bromfield's original version translation of War And Peace rocks

I have tried War and Peace several times since I was a teenager, and each time I have enjoyed it UNTIL I get to the same bit. This is the bit where Tolstoy decides it's time to give us all a little lecture (say, a mere hundred and fifty pages) on his theory of history.

I think this is in an inexcusable flaw in a story, book, or epic. Worst of all, it makes poor Leo Nicholayevich into precisely the pretentious git which he didn't want to be remembered as.

Because of the pretentious and boring quality of the classic War and Peace, I quit reading this book. But I felt like I had failed when I was a teenager. Now I am a mature adult and I know better: Tolstoy was being a pretentious bore.

What we English readers didn't know then is that there are other versions of Tolstoy's novel. One, it would seem, written while he was still part of everyday society, and one written after he gave up in disgust on society. And the version which has reached the Anglosphere is the latter version, infected with his disgust at society.

Tolstoy considered titling the earlier version "All's Well That Ends Well". It was his first full draft. This version has a number of improvements over the classic or canonical version. It is half the length. It has not of the pretentious digressions into essay-lectures. And it has more of the peace and less of the war. In addition, when I recently learned that the earlier version doesn't have the extreme pessimism in it, I leapt up to buy a copy.

It's really fresh and engaging, with little of the heaviness of the latter version.

Tolstoy being one of the most gifted naturalistic observers of all time and a keen vitalist also had a significant shadow side: you can also view him as a really fake guy (he saw himself that way sometimes), and reading him could be exhausting and delibitating.

If you want to read Tolstoy really shining, with less of the parched earth negativism and pessimism of the later man, then this is a fantastic read. If you are new to Tolstoy and have read Jane Austen or Thackaray, then here is your perfect entry-point into Russian literature. The text preserves the jagged edges, the pleasureable style, and the smooth dialog of the original. The story moves faster than the classic version, and the breaks between scenes are sudden and unexpectedly pleasurable. It is much more the modern work than the classic version in this sense.

I love it, and I think many other readers will love it too. I suspect the purist readers who have given this negative amazon reviews may mostly not have read this version, or perhaps they simply are snobs. This delightful book is a great read and free of all the greatest faults that mar the better known version of War and Peace.


Blogger Unknown said...

I have read both the classic and this draft version translated by Bromfield. I must say I enjoy both of them immensely, although I tend to see them as two different stories in my mind.

12:56 AM


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