War and Pacifica
December 5, 2005 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Tomorrow for the 35th anniversary of WBAI's four and a half day radio reading of Tolstoy's War and Peace, the amazing Pacifica Radio Archives will host a 18 hour fundraiser on the Pacifica Foundation Network. (KPFK, KPFT, WPFK, and the first listener supported radio station in America, KPFA.) A hour long speical on the War and Peace broadcast will be featured on Democracy Now! Tune in for a slice of history.
posted by wheelieman (9 comments total)
Offical site here
posted by wheelieman at 3:43 PM on December 5, 2005

War and Peace is my favorite novel of all time.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:15 PM on December 5, 2005

I remember when I was little I checked out War and Peace from the library just to show my dad I read real biooks, he just laughed. It was a heavy volume too.
posted by wheelieman at 6:20 PM on December 5, 2005

I'll always be grateful that I grew up within the listening radius of WBAI. I especially loved it when they re-played anti-Communist radio dramas from the 40s -- but just about everything they put on the air was startlingly different from everything else in the New York market. 'BAI is one of the reasons I'm a radio junkie today.
posted by Miko at 7:11 PM on December 5, 2005

W&P is often called the "greatest novel", usually in relation to its length, number of characters, epic scope, etc.. but it was written at a time when it was thought that literary "realism" (as defined by Balzac in the 1830s) could not only tell history, it could tell history better than any other medium. Tolstoy set out not just to write a good yarn, but to write history as it really was. Historical fiction was thought, during a brief golden time, to be better than history books and prime sources. Of course this vision has faded with time... the historical novel with 500+ characters and 1000+ pages, by the 1930s, had exhausted its self.. it's just a niche genre today and we look back at those early monumental efforts by the great writers of the 19th century who defined and created something new. But there are some really really good historical fiction novels that have been written since, W&P remains a popular favourite.
posted by stbalbach at 8:03 PM on December 5, 2005

I think it's the "greatest" novel because it's the greatest novel. Not merely because it's long or has a huge scope. It seems very strange to me that you're implicitly devaluing this book by making it a genre novel. Weird.

And for those who haven't read it: don't let stbalbach's comment make you think this book is less that it is. It does have enormous scope and is extremely ambitious; but the one thing that, for me, makes it definitely great is the characterization. In few other novel have I found characters as fully realized. And I mean "realized" in the sense that these characters seem uncannily like real people to me. In my opinion, the reason they seem so real is because Tosltoy lets them grow and change as real people; he also lets them behave in odd and sometimes unpredictable ways, also as real people do. It was only after I read War and Peace that I started thinking that so many characters in fiction are far too abstracted, too symbolic, they're an idea the writer has. I've only read War and Peace once—I started it a second time a few years ago and for some reason didn't get very far. The second time, too, I think it takes about 200 pages before the reader feels comfortable. Up to that point, it seems like a very big book. Too big. After that point, it just flies.

Anyway, after reading it the first time, and still today, I believe that if I met Pierre on the street we'd sit down at a cafe and we'd have plenty to talk about. He's someone I want to know personally, even though I know him intimately from reading the book.

The book's odd flaw are the few (but egregious) times that Tolstoy violates the suspension of disbelief and lectures the reader on his theory of history. It's odd because the book's narrative itself is sufficient. Nevertheless, Tolstoy takes a few opportunities in the meat of the book, and in both epilogues, to lecture.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:11 AM on December 6, 2005

Silence ensued. The countess looked at her callers, smiling affably, but not concealing the fact that she would not be distressed if they now rose and took their leave. The visitor's daughter was already smoothing down her dress with an inquiring look at her mother, when suddenly from the next room were heard the footsteps of boys and girls running to the door and the noise of a chair falling over, and a girl of thirteen, hiding something in the folds of her short muslin frock, darted in and stopped short in the middle of the room. It was evident that she had not intended her flight to bring her so far. Behind her in the doorway appeared a student with a crimson coat collar, an officer of the Guards, a girl of fifteen, and a plump rosy-faced boy in a short jacket.

The count jumped up and, swaying from side to side, spread his arms wide and threw them round the little girl who had run in.

"Ah, here she is!" he exclaimed laughing. "My pet, whose name day it is. My dear pet!"

"Ma chere, there is a time for everything," said the countess with feigned severity. "You spoil her, Ilya," she added, turning to her husband.

"How do you do, my dear? I wish you many happy returns of your name day," said the visitor. "What a charming child," she added, addressing the mother.

This black-eyed, wide-mouthed girl, not pretty but full of life- with childish bare shoulders which after her run heaved and shook her bodice, with black curls tossed backward, thin bare arms, little legs in lace-frilled drawers, and feet in low slippers- was just at that charming age when a girl is no longer a child, though the child is not yet a young woman. Escaping from her father she ran to hide her flushed face in the lace of her mother's mantilla- not paying the least attention to her severe remark- and began to laugh. She laughed, and in fragmentary sentences tried to explain about a doll which she produced from the folds of her frock.

"Do you see?... My doll... Mimi... You see..." was all Natasha managed to utter (to her everything seemed funny). She leaned against her mother and burst into such a loud, ringing fit of laughter that even the prim visitor could not help joining in.

"Now then, go away and take your monstrosity with you," said the mother, pushing away her daughter with pretended sternness, and turning to the visitor she added: "She is my youngest girl."

Natasha, raising her face for a moment from her mother's mantilla, glanced up at her through tears of laughter, and again hid her face.

The visitor, compelled to look on at this family scene, thought it necessary to take some part in it.

"Tell me, my dear," said she to Natasha, "is Mimi a relation of yours? A daughter, I suppose?"

Natasha did not like the visitor's tone of condescension to childish things. She did not reply, but looked at her seriously.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:29 AM on December 6, 2005

Ethereal Bligh, we don't seem to have the book anywhere around, care to copy it here?
posted by Laotic at 3:48 AM on December 6, 2005

EB, if you like that kind of thing check out Balzac's Grand Comedy, it's only about 90 books and took 20+ years to write, but the characters intertwine and you see them from multiple perspectives across time. He was the father of realism before Tolstoy, it's so real historians use his work to study France in the 1820s and 30s. BTW no one is deprecating W&P just providing some context. Everyone has their favorites.
posted by stbalbach at 7:37 AM on December 6, 2005

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